Tuesday, January 15, 2013

No. 680: Reducing power consumption of an LSI to less than one hundredth (January 16, 2013)

NTT and Tokyo Institute of Technology developed a technology to reduce power consumption of an LSI to less than one hundredth. Because light can transmit a signal with a considerably smaller amount of energy than an electron, application of light signals has spread to the short distance communications between computers. However, it is necessary to control such a short spectrum about 10 nanometers to use light signals inside an LSI.

The two organizations successfully developed an infrastructure technology to handle light signals even in the nano region. They created a physical phenomenon called plasmon that vibrates by the concentration difference between the part with a large number of electrons and that with a small number of electrons inside graphene (sheet-shaped carbon molecules) known as an advanced material made of carbon. The two organizations plan to build a trial product in less than two years. The research results were published in the latest issue of the British science magazine “NatureCommunications.” 

 Relations between increasing performance and 
increasing power consumption of a system LSI 

Friday, January 11, 2013

No. 679: Creating a heat-resistant plastic using euglena (January 10, 2013)

NEC, AIST, and University of Miyazaki jointly developed a heat-resistant plastic using the component of euglena as the main raw material. It has a higher degree of heat resistance than bio plastic made of polylactate. The research team created this plastic by adding fat element extracted from peanut husks to the polysaccharide produced by euglena. It does not become squishy even at such a high temperature as 120 degrees centigrade. It is more than two times stronger to heat than polylactate and nylon 11. It can be processed as easily as the existing bio plastics and standard plastics.

Euglena is about 50 micrometers long and 10 micrometers wide. It proliferates eating glucose. At the same time, it can be increased through photosynthesis using sunlight and carbon dioxide. Because it can be cultured using safe effluent from food plants, energy necessary for the production of plastics can be reduced. The research team plans to increase the strength to put it into practical use at an early date.    

    Heat-resistant plastics using the component 
of euglena as the main raw material

Thursday, January 10, 2013

No. 678: Two Japanese companies ally for the next-generation carbon materials (January 9, 2013)

Business trend:
Showa Denko and Mitsubishi Corp. ally to develop the technology for the next-generation nanotechnology-based carbon materials. Showa Denko acquired 50% of Frontier Carbon jointly established by Mitsubishi Corp. and Mitsubishi Chemical. Starting the development of carbon nanotube more than 10 years ago, Showa Denko has been the front runner in the production technology of carbon nanotube. It decided to participate in developing technology involved in fullerene that is another promising carbon material. Fullerene is expected to be used widely for the material of highly efficient solar batteries. 

Founded in 2001, Frontier Carbon has been nearly monopolizing the word market of fullerene in production with its self-developed technology that produces fullerene by burning carbon hydride. The company started to operate the mass production facilities of fullerene in 2003 for the first time in the world. It currently produces about one ton of fullerene per year mostly for chemical companies. Frontier Carbon already developed a negative-electrode material using fullerene and achieved 11% in the efficiency to convert sunlight to electricity. It is now trying to improve the conversion efficiency to 15-20%. In the field of carbon nanotube, Zeon has already started mass production. (For details of Zeon, please read No. 639.)

 Fullerene is rather promising. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

No. 677: Secret of the low launch cost of the Japanese small rocket Epsilon (January 8, 2013)

The first Epsilon, the successor of the M-V rocket, will be launched in August or September this year, according to Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. It is in the final stage for the final experiment. The first Epsilon will carry the SPRINT-A, the world’s first space telescope for planet observation, that is designed for the remote observation of Venus, Mars, and Jupiter from satellites’ orbit.

Although an M-V rocket needs 42 days from assembling to cleanup after launch, an Epsilon needs only 7 days. The Epsilon can execute an abrupt order for satellite launch. While an M-V rocket needs 7.5 billion yen to transport a 1.8-ton satellite to space, an Epsilon needs 3 billion yen to transport a 1.2-ton satellite to space. The agency wishes to reduce the cost down to less than 3 billion yen ultimately. It reckons that the launch cost will be 25-35% lower in 2017.

The secret of the low launch cost is the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI). Because a rocket carries out examinations before launch by itself, a great deal of laborsaving has been realized. An M-V rocket needs more than 100 engineers for examinations before launch, but an Epsilon needs only 2 engineers because the examinations can be carried out only by 2 PCs. The “mobile control” using PCs is the first step for the development of a future reusable rocket. Japanese rocket engineers are actively increasing the efficiency of the launch system, while maintaining the world’s highest performance of the rocket. 

 Presentation of the Epsilon rocket

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

No. 676: A principle to increase the energy conversion efficiency of a solar battery to 85% (January 2, 2013)

It is rather hard for the existing solar battery to achieve a conversion efficiency of 40%. A research team led by Akira Ishibashi of Hokkaido University developed a technology to increase the conversion efficiency, theoretically to 85%, by converting most of sunlight to electricity using many kinds of semiconductors made of different materials. By lining up plural semiconductor thin films to the direction of travel of light, the technology absorbs ultraviolet, optical wavelength, infrared in this order. The research team has only confirmed the principle at present, and it plans to commercialize the technology at an early date.

In this principle, light thrusts into not from the surface of the thin film but from the cross section. To increase the area on which light shines, the research team built a structure that folds the thin film as a roll and allows light to irradiate the cross section of the roll to let light get inside the film. Existing studies focus on increasing the conversion efficiency by stacking particles of different sizes in quantum dot. The new technology is hard to materialize because of the difficulty to get suitable semiconductor materials, but it is easier to handle than the quantum dot, the research team said.  

Trend of the conversion efficiency of a solar battery