Monday, December 31, 2012

No. 675: An automatic flying surveillance robot by a security company (January 1, 2013)

Secom, Japan’s leading security company, developed a small flying robot designed for surveillance. Propeller-driven, the robot allows for automatic flight. If a suspicious vehicle enters into client’s premises outside office hours, the sensors installed on the building will detect it and transmit data to the stand-by flying robot, and the robot will immediately go into action. It chases the suspicious vehicle and films the vehicle and the physiognomy of suspicious persons in the vehicle higly accurately. The company will put it into practical application as part of its online security services for industrial users in 2014. The new service is intended for suburban shopping centers.

The flying robot knows the location of the suspicious vehicle and films it in face of it and sends information on the vehicle by radio to Secom’s surveillance center in real time. Secom’s staff will dispatch security agents or report to the police department depending on the images it receives. The flying robot is expected to prevent suspicious persons from entering into the premises. The company is planning to provide this service as an additional service for less than 5,000 yen per month in its online security service. Secom is now developing a system to prevent break-in by combining its sensor technology and IC tag technology as the next-generation service. Alsok, Japan’s second largest security company, has developed a system to detect a suspicious person entering into premise in a few seconds based on the laser sensor technology.

Secom’s flying robot for surveillance

Friday, December 28, 2012

No. 674: Lithium-ion battery with two times longer life than the existing lithium-ion battery (December 28, 2012)

Eliiy Power, Japan’s leading producer of lithium-ion batteries for industrial purpose, has developed a technology to lengthen the life of a lithium-ion battery by more than two times. By optimizing the composition of battery materials, the company increased the discharge and charge frequency to world’s highest standard of 12,000 times (about 10 years). Currently the maximum frequency is 6,000 times (about 5 years). It has already started mass producing the new lithium-ion batteries

To increase the life of a lithium-ion battery, Eliiy reviewed the composition of lithium iron phosphate used in the electrode successfully prevented the phenomenon that electric current cannot flow easily in the repetition of discharge and charge from occurring. It also developed a technology to increase the safety of a lithium-ion battery. At the same time, it increased the flash ignition temperature to higher than 70 degrees centigrade by changing the kind of electrolyte. The new electrolyte will be adopted in 2013. According to a survey company, the world market of lithium-ion battery for industrial purpose is expected to increase from 800 million yen in 2012 to 20,000 million yen in 2020. 

Eliiy Power’s lithium-ion battery with two times 
more life than the existing lithium-ion battery

Promotion video of lithium-ion battery by Eliiy

Monday, December 24, 2012

No. 673: A highly efficient plant to recover carbon dioxide for recycling with 40% less heat energy (December 24, 2012)

Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal developed a plant to recover carbon dioxide and recycle the recovered carbon dioxide for a material of industrial gases with 40% smaller amount of energy than the existing plant. The new plant uses special liquid for efficient absorption of CO2 that Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal developed in collaboration with Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth. The special absorption liquid is sprayed inside the tank filled with exhaust fumes, and subsequently the special absorption liquid that contains CO2 is transferred to another tank and heated to discharge CO2. The discharged CO2 is used for industrial gases, carbonated drinks, and a raw material of dry ice. Unlike the existing plant that needs to heat the absorption liquid containing CO2 to 120 degrees centigrade, the new plant has to heat only to 95 degrees centigrade. In addition, heat generated in the process to absorb CO2 contained in the exhaust fumes can also be recycled. Accordingly, the required heat energy can be reduced by 43%.     

Nippon Steel and Sumikin Engineering will market the new technology to industrial gas companies both at home and abroad. Enhanced oil recovery, the technology to infuse unproductive oil fields with CO2 to increase oil production, attracts attention worldwide especially from Asia and Africa. The plant to recover 50,000 tons of CO2 is priced at 2 billion yen and that to recover 1 million tons of CO2 is priced at 9 billion yen. There are two kinds of technologies to recover CO2 from exhaust fumes. The chemical absorption method uses alkali solution that absorbs CO2 with the help of a chemical reaction, while the physical absorption method uses methanol and takes in CO2 applying high pressure. 

Enhanced Oil Recovery 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

No. 672: Experiment to supply hydrogen to household fuel batteries (December 20, 2012)

National Institute for Land and Infrastructure Management conducted an experiment to supply hydrogen to household fuel batteries using the public utility conduit. This experiment is part of the efforts to build a low carbon society because supplying hydrogen using urban infrastructure is vital to realize a society that uses hydrogen as an energy source.

The research agency installed conduit pipes for about 250 m in the public utility conduit of the nearby city. In the experiment, it supplied hydrogen in hydrogen cylinders to the fuel batteries in the simulated house through the public utility conduit. Generated electricity and heat were used to illuminate the lights, play the DVD players, and operate the hot-water heater. Currently, city gas is supplied to household fuel batteries. A fuel battery can be downsized considerably and higly efficient if it can utilize hydrogen directly.

The experiment to supply hydrogen to 
materialize the next-generation energy 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

No. 671: The substantiative experiment of biofuel made from stalks and leaves starts in 2013 (December 19, 2012)

Research Instituteof Innovative Technology for the Earth (RITE), Honda Research and Development that is a subsidiary of Honda Motor, and U.S. Department of Energy will jointly start the substantiative experiment of the bioethanol they developed together. The technology can produce bioethanol from stalks and leaves that cannot be offered as food at the same cost to produce gasoline. It is a combination of the pretreatment technology to recover sugar developed by U.S. Department of Energy and the gene recombination fungus that RITE’s Dr. Hideaki Yukawa developed. Resistant to fermentation inhibitors, and Yukawa’s fungus can use sugar produced in the pretreatment at a low cost.

The new technology will supposedly make it possible to produce bioethanol at 2.5 dollars per gallon, almost half of the present cost. The substantiative experiment of factor technologies will start in Japan in 2013, and experimental production of 1 ton per day will start in the U.S. in 2014. Subsequently, mass production experiment will start in alliance with an American company. Production of bioethanol was about 22,300 million gallons in 2011. However, most of the production was made of fruits of sugarcanes and corns, and inevitably food prices go higher.

Producing biofuel from stalks and leaves at the same cost to produce gasoline  

Equipment to produce bioethanol available on the market 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

No. 670: Developing a large unmanned plane for disaster monitoring capable of flying for three days without refuel (December 18, 2012)

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will start developing a large unmanned plane with a length of 15 m in 2014. The plane is for disaster monitoring and capable of flying for three days without refuel. With a highly energy-efficient engine and a large airframe, it will be able to monitor a large-scale disaster site from the sky. The unmanned plane JAXA currently uses is 1.6 m in length, and it can fly for only 20 minutes. The agency will finish the research on factor technologies and put the plane into practical use by 2022.

The new unmanned plane will be 10-15 m long and 30-40 m wide. Driven by propellers, it will carry a solar battery as auxiliary power source in addition to the highly energy-efficient engine. It can cruise higher than 15,000 m above the sea level and observe the ground surface above clouds using sensors. It will also carry infrared cameras and new radar that can film the land surface night and day with the help of microwaves. In addition, it can carry a receiving apparatus capable of automatic identification of ships in passage. It will fly the sky over the Japanese territorial waters and locate suspicious ships.

A small unmanned plane developed by the JAXA

Monday, December 17, 2012

No. 669: Launch of a demonstration satellite for space photovoltaic generation is scheduled for 2017 (December 17, 2012)

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will launch a demonstration satellite for space photovoltaic generation in 2017. Unlike photovoltaic generation greatly affected by bad weather, space photovoltaic generation allows for stable power supply regardless of the weather. The demonstration satellite weighs about 400 kg, and the agency will launch the satellite using its self-developed Epsilon Launch Vehicle. It will have a generation capacity of 2 kW. The generated electricity will be converted to microwave and sent to the earth with the help of an antenna 2 m in diameter, and subsequently converted again to power. The satellite will go around the orbit 370 km above the ground.

Space photovoltaic generation is expected to have about 10 times more output than photovoltaic generation on the earth. Although a large-scale antenna is required to receive microwaves, space photovoltaic generation can get two times more output per installation area than the existing mega solar. The agency plans to launch several generation satellites with a view to starting commercial generation in 2040. However, various innovations are required in such areas as solar battery and antenna for commercialization because it costs more than one trillion yen to build a satellite with the same generation capacity as one nuclear power plant. 

Space solar power systems by the JAXA

Friday, December 14, 2012

No. 668: Sumitomo Electric mass produces redox flow batteries next year (December 15, 2012)

Sumitomo Electric will commercialize the redox (reduction-oxidation reaction) flow battery that is the next-generation large battery within 2013. The company will build a demonstration line in Osaka with an investment of one billion yen by April 2013 and start mass production late 2013. The projected sales of the redox flow battery business are 100 billion yen in 2020. Like the sodium sulfur battery, the redox flow battery is expected to be put into practical use for a storage capacity with a storage capacity of several thousand kW.

The redox flow battery will be adopted by power equipment like transformer station and contribute to building a smart city. The Japanese government also positions the large battery as an important technology to realize the territorially distributed power source and equalization of power burden. As always, cost reduction is vital for the spread of redox flow battery, and Sumitomo Electric will work on reducing the cost of continuously as mass production develops. According to a survey company, the world large battery market will grow 3.3 times to about 2,100 billion yen in 2016 over the level in 2010.     

 Sumitomo Electric’s redox flow battery

 Sumitomo Electric’s ideas for a smart city

Thursday, December 13, 2012

No. 667: Mitsubishi’s regional business jet is selling well (December 14, 2012)

Business trend: 
Mitsubishi Regional Jet will increase the production capacity of its small regional jet MRJ to 10 units per month, the monthly full production capacity, toward 2020. The company got an additional order of 100 MRJs from SkyWest Airlines of the U.S. It has already secured 100 MRJs from the same airline. At the moment, it has 330 MRJs as a backlog order, and it will supposedly get additional orders after the maiden flight scheduled for next autumn.

The company will start to deliver an MRJ beginning in the summer of 2015 and increase the production capacity by one unit each month to increase the monthly production to 10 units in the late 2020. The company is now one more step to reach the profitable line of 400-500 units. The MRJ has better mileage than competing jets: it is 20% economical than them in terms of fuel consumption. The technology that developed the zero in the Pacific War seems to have contributed to the excellent mileage of the MRJ.     
 MRJ from Mitsubishi Regional Jet

The Zero 

No. 666: Japanese gas-fired power generation technology goes to Bangladesh (December 13, 2012)

Business trend:
Marubeni got an order for a gas-fired power generation plant from Bangladesh with Hyundai Engineering and Construction. The order is about 30 billion yen, and they are scheduled to conclude a formal contract with Electric Generation Company of Bangladesh within the year. The plant will have a generation capacity of 400,000 kW that is about 5% of Bangladeshi total generation capacity. The construction will start early in 2013 and end within 2015.

Marubeni and Hyundai competed with several Chinese companies, but they successfully got the order because of their excellent technology. Mitsubishi will supply the gas turbine and Fuji Electric supply steam turbine. The plant has higher combustion efficiency because waste heat coming from the gas turbine runs the steam turbine. The government of Bangladesh is planning to procure capital from Japanese banking syndicate. Many foreign companies wish to construct a plant in Bangladesh to make the best use of low labor cost, but Bangladesh is suffering form chronic power shortage. The country plans to increase its total generation capacity 2.6 times to 210 million kW by 2016. Please click here for further details in Japanese.  

Japanese state-of-the-art coal and LNG 
power generation technology (1) and (2)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

No. 665: Slow sales of electric vehicles affect lithium-ion battery material producers (December 12, 2012)

Business trend:
Mitsubishi Chemical decided to freeze the investment of 30 billion yen for increasing production capacity of materials for lithium-ion battery. The company plans to invest 30 billion yen by 2015, but electric vehicles are not selling as fast as originally expected. The company found that it has become hard to secure profitability under the current situation and decided to postpone the investment for at least 1-2 years.

According to a research company, Japanese companies have a combined share of 62.7% in the market of the four materials, namely, electrolyte, cathode, anode, and separator, in 2008, but it decreased to 46.6% in 2011. On the other hand, China increased the share to 23.9% and Korea increased the share to 20.6 respectively, decreasing the difference between Japanese companies quite rapidly.

Actually, sales of EVs are very slow. Nissan, the frontrunner of the EV business, planned to sell 1,500,000 EVs worldwide n alliance with Renault by 2016, but worldwide sales were only 43,000 units at the end of October 2012. Japan is the most advanced in promoting EVs with excellent subsidy system, but annual sales of Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors are supposed to be about 30,000 units each despite the wonderful subsidy. The slow sales can be attributed to the short travel distance per charge and fierce competition with hybrid vehicle and small cars with excellent mileage.

Actions of major material producers

Mitsubishi Chemical
Investment freeze

Ube Kosan
Deteriorating results

Panax of Korea

Nichia Chemical
Decreased production

Yumicore of Belgium

Hitachi Chemical
Decreasing the scale of expansion

Mitsubishi Chemical
Investment freeze
Asahi Chemical
Status quo

Status quo

Celgard of the U.S.

 Toyota’s Hybrid Prius vs. Nissan’s EV Leaf 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

No. 664: Research organization to halve the production cost of solar battery (December 11, 2012)

Business trend:
Under the initiative of National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, a consortium to develop the next-generation solar battery will be founded. The consortium will introduce a line to develop the next-generation solar battery in the research center to be built in Fukushima Prefecture by 2014 and build a trial product in less than five years. The research organization aims to realize less than 50 yen per watt, about half of the present production cost. A total of 19 companies and universities will participate in the project and the total number of researchers will be 100.

An experimental production line will be built in Fukushima with an investment of 2 billion yen. The researchers will develop such technologies as the method to slice monocrystalline silicon and the method to connect multiple solar batteries for modularization. They are scheduled to develop a pre-production sample in five years. The pre-production sample will be a highly-efficient monocrystalline silicon solar battery 100 micrometers thick, about half the thickness of the present solar battery.  

Monocrystalline silicon solar batteries

Sunday, December 9, 2012

No. 663: A Japanese large-scale lithium-ion battery goes to Chile (December 8, 2012)

Business trend:
GS Yuasa got an order for a battery system from Chile in alliance with Mitsubishi Corp. It is a lithium-ion battery system with a capacity of 6,300 kW/h that is the daily power consumption of 700 standard Japanese households. The system will shipped to the coal thermal power plant in Chile. The project cost is estimated at 110 billion yen. The coal thermal power plant has a general capacity of 530,000 kW, and the system will be used for the standby power supply to cover up to 20,000 kW in case of emergency like power outage.

Power plants usually use a generator for the standby power supply, but it takes time to start the generator and costs much for maintenance. To make up for the shortcoming, a lithium-ion battery system was selected. Lithium Energy Japan produces lithium-ion batteries, GS Yuasa builds a system, and Mitsubishi Corp. delivers the system to Chile through Parker Hannifen of the U.S. The technology and product reliability that GS Yuasa has accumulated in building large lithium-ion battery systems for railways and ports is supposedly to have contributed to this business. Please click here for further details in English.

  GS Yuasa’s large-scale lithium-ion battery system

Friday, December 7, 2012

No. 662: A new technology to reduce the clearance between parts on the substrate (December 7, 2012)

TDK developed a new technology to insulate an electrode by covering it with resin for smaller clearance between parts on the substrate. With this technology, the clearance between parts on the substrate is shortened to one quarter of the present clearance. Accordingly, it has become possible to cut the area of the substrate to half to put the same number of parts. First, the company decided to employ this new technology to ultrasmall condensers, and subsequently to smartphones.

The new technology is to cover the ultrasmall condenser with insulating resin. Because condensers used for smartphones have an exposed electrode, small clearance between them causes a malfunction due to short circuit in time of installing. The new technology makes it possible to shorten the clearance between condensers to one fourth of the exiting clearance to halve the required area of the substrate. TDK has filed an application for a patent of this technology. Please click here for further details in English. 

A ceramic condenser is one of the key 
devices of a smartphone 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

No. 661: A new remote control robot from Mitsubishi Heavy designed for Fukushima (December 6, 2012)

Mitsubishi Heavy unveiled its new remote control robot designed for jobs inside the building of the Fukushima Nuclear Power plant. It can carry out complicated jobs in a pace that does not allow an access like disaster site. It can cut obstacles and collect samples with its two arms.

It weighs 440 kg, and it can ascend and descend a 40-degree slope and walk even in a narrow space. Using the device installed on the top of the arms, it can drill a concrete wall and collect samples. Each of the arms can carry an object up to 15 kg. It can work for two hours by battery should it be operated wirelessly.     

 A new remote control robot from Mitsubishi Heavy 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

No. 660: A small infrared image sensor miniaturizes an infrared camera and makes it less expensive (December 5, 2012)

NEC developed a small infrared image sensor that can be used for the infrared camera. The newly developed infrared image sensor has volume one tenth of the existing product. Should it be employed for an infrared camera, the lens can be made smaller to one quarter of the lens currently used. It helps miniaturize the body of the infrared camera and expand the fields of application of the infrared camera. The company will start to mass produce the new product in 2013.

Using the approach to the microelectronic machine system (MEMS), the company developed a technology to increase the density of the image element to detect infrared by about four times. The miniaturized infrared image sensor made it possible to simplify the case for maintaining vacuum, reducing the volume to one tenth of the existing product. At the same time, an improved production method will reduce the price to less than one third of the existing product to 200,000-300,000 yen apiece. Please click here for further details in Japanese.

 NEC’s newly developed infrared image sensor 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

No. 659: Highly efficient integrated gasification combined cycle starts commercial operations next April (December 4, 2012)

Clean Coal Power R and D will start the commercial operations of its integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) system next April. Its IGCC system is more efficient than the conventional thermal power generation system. The company has been conducting the substantiative experiment of this system since September 2007, and it is scheduled to finish it next March on schedule. The demonstration unit will be converted to a commercial unit.

The power generated by the demonstration unit is being sold to Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and will continue to be sold to TEPCO after the commercial operations starts. IGCC runs the gas turbine with the gas created by burning coals and the steam turbine with steam created by exhaust heat. It has higher generation efficiency than the conventional coal-fired thermal power, and it reduces carbon oxide emissions by 20%. Please click here for further information in Japanese. 

IGCC plant