Thursday, February 28, 2013

No. 693: Developing a sulfur-based positive electrode material for lithium-ion batteries (February 28, 2013)

Nagase ChemteX in Osaka developed a positive-electrode material for lithium-ion batteries that uses sulfur. In the test that used sulfide solid for the electrolyte layer, the battery with a sulfur-based positive electrode exhibited 4.3 times more discharge capacity than the conventional battery with a cobalt-based positive electrode. Sulfur has over 10 times more theoretical discharge capacity than cobaltic acid lithium that is currently dominant as a positive electrode material. Although sulfur is cheap and abundant, its decreases output as the filling rate in the positive electrode increases. In addition, should it be used with organic solvent electrolyte layer, it dissolves to deteriorate the charge-discharge cycle.

The filling rate of sulfur of the new material is higher than 50%, and the company successfully increased the output by adopting the structure that decreases electric resistance and a sulfur solid electrolyte layer in place of the traditional organic solvent electrolyte to prevent combustion and reduce the deterioration due to the charge-discharge cycle, and by adjusting the figure and ratio of conduction assistance of electrons and ions. In the output test, the sulfur-based electrode exhibited 4.3 times more discharge capacity than cobaltic acid lithium in a current density of 2 mA. The company plans to commercialize it for smartphones toward 2018. Nagase ChemteX is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Nagase.    

Demand for positive electrode materials of 
lithium-ion battery is growing quite rapidly

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

No. 692: An automated cruise technology to improve fuel mileage by more than 15% (February 27, 2013)

New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) developed an automated cruise technology that allows vehicles to trave in line. The technology understands the running conditions through communications between vehicles and adjusts the speed and inter-vehicular distance using computers. By keeping the inter-vehicular distance that minimizes the air resistance between vehicles, the research team reckons that fuel mileage will improve more than 15%.

Cameras and radars loaded on vehicles decide the traveling course by recognizing the white line on the road. The sensor attached to the front part of the vehicle understands the speed and inter-vehicular distance. And the wireless and optical communications with the vehicles before and after allows each vehicle to know their running conditions. The computer adjusts the inter-vehicular distance automatically for energy-saving travel. The running test was conducted by three big trucks and one small truck. They realized the automated cruise at 80 km/h with an inter-vehicular distance of 4 m.    

Successful test of the automated cruise 
technology conducted by four trucks

Monday, February 25, 2013

No. 691: Fuji develops a resin sheet that generates electricity with the help of temperature difference (February 26, 2013)

Fujifilm developed a resin sheet that generates electricity with the help of the difference between human body temperature and outside air temperature in alliance with the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). It can be an auxiliary power source of mobile device if it is attached to body or clothes. It can use such power production sources as heat from a TV set, vapor from the bathroom, curtain in the sunshine, and autobody. The company plans to improve performance and durability with a view to putting it into practical application within five years.

The newly-developed sheet uses the thermoelectric effect that temperature difference between front and back lets an electric current flow. In the normal condition, temperature on the surface of human body and clothes is higher than outside air temperature, stable power can be secured. Fujifilm applied electroconductive polymer with which Hideki Shirakawa, professor emeritus of Tsukuba University, won the Noble Prize in Chemistry in 2000. It developed an electroconductive polymer that transmits electricity but does not conduct heat easily using its own original synthesis technology. The sheet is 0.4 mm thick. The generation capacity is currently only several milliwatts per postcard sized sheet. It reckons that the new sheet will be suitable for the power source of a device that monitors cardiac beat and blood pressure round the clock. 

Hybrid thermoelectric generator 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

No. 690: Japanese railway operation technology goes to Vietnam (February 25, 2013)

Business trend:
Tokyo Metro, the subway company in the Tokyo Metropolis, will extend operational support on urban railway to Vietnam. The company will establish an overseas subsidiary in Hanoi to give support on operation management and human resource development for the urban railway that Vietnam constructs in Hanoi within the month. Tokyo Metro will invest 90% and Japan International Consultants for Transportation that is a subsidiary of JR East invests 10%. Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) will give financial support. Tokyo Metro will dispatch about 10 staffs to the overseas subsidiary to provide Japanese know-how on the integrated management of a railway network and safety operation.

The subsidiary will work on the urban line in Hanoi scheduled to start operations in the spring of 2015. Hanoi plans to open five urban railway lines by 2020. Because three countries of Japan, France, and China will construct the lines, specifications of overhead wiring and signal system vary with the line. Tokyo Metro currently operates nine subway lines with a total length of about 200 km in Tokyo, and it has accumulated know-how on operation and management on railways networks in a big city.

The world railway market is expected to grow 2.5% annually by 2020 to 22 trillion yen. Especially, the Asian and Western Europe are the two big markets, each of which will grow to 6 trillion yen by 2010. Japanese railway companies are making strenuous efforts to get orders from overseas markets. JR Tokai, the operator of Tokaido Shinkansen, is trying to get an order from the U.S. with its linear motor car. JR East established its Belgium office last November and will establish an office in Singapore coming Mach.    

A subway line in Tokyo 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

No. 689: Power generation using waste heat of vehicle engine (February 23, 2013)

SWCC Showa plans to develop a semiconductor part that generates power using waste heat of vehicle engine in alliance with Tokyo University of Science. The regeneration system that stores energy generated during deceleration as electricity and uses it for power generation is widespread in green cars. The two organizations wish to improve this energy-saving technology with the help of waste heat of vehicle engine.  

They plan to use a new composite semiconductor made of magnesium and silicone. It has the property to convert heat into electricity using the electric pressure created by the temperature difference should it be put around an engine that gets hot as high as 500 degrees centigrade. Traditionally, a chemical compound of lead and tellurium is used for this purpose, but it contains lead that is harmful for health and expensive tellurium. SWCC Showa wishes to realize an output of more than 500 W per square meter using the composite semiconductor that Tokyo University of Science has been developing. 

 Power generation using waste heat

Friday, February 22, 2013

No. 688: Developing a material to prevent thermal runaway of a lithium-ion battery (February 22, 2013)

Tosoh, one of Japan’s leading chemical companies, developed a material to prevent a lithium-ion battery from growing abnormally high and exploding. Only a small amount of the new material is mixed with electrolyte to work. The company has already started the performance test with more than 10 domestic battery manufacturers, and it is ready to mass produce this new material for small amount. Because Boeing’s 787s are not allowed to fly because of battery trouble, Tosoh’s new material seems to attract attention as a solution.

The company launched two types of an inhibitor that prevents the fire and a flame resistance digestive that extinguishes the fire. Both are liquid, and the former is mixed with electrolyte at a concentration of 5% and the latter is mixed at concentration of 20%. The inhibitor suppresses abnormal resolution of electrolyte even if the temperature of a battery exceeds 80 degrees centigrade, and prevents combustible gas from generating and the pressure inside the battery from rising. The flame resistance digestive stops combustion, and the fire can be extinguished in less than five seconds even if the battery catches fire. At this moment, Tosoh can produce the inhibitor and flame resistance digestive for 10 tons per year each. It plans to increase the production capacity up to 1,000 tons per year with an investment of several hundred million yen to star mass production in 2014.    

Japan Airlines Boeing 787 at Narita Airport

Thursday, February 21, 2013

No. 687: Panasonic develops a technology to film clear stereoscopic vision with one lens (February 21, 2013)

Panasonic developed a 3D sensor that films clear stereoscopic vision with one lens, transcending the traditional design limitation that requires two lenses to film stereoscopic vision. Using two lenses doubles the number of electronic parts necessary for image processing and complicates the structure of equipment, making it rather hard to miniaturize the structure. The existing one-lens model cannot produce clear stereoscopic vision because of the difficulty to divide vision into two eyes.

Panasonic loaded its self-developed lens on the surface of an image processing sensor. The Panasonic’s self-developed lens can divide the light coming into the lens by angle. The new 3D sensor figures out light suitable to the angle of the viewer to collect light and organizes stereoinformation without decreasing the image quality. It can film fast-moving sports activities because it films 60 times per second. It will also be helpful to the development of a system that detects a tumor and a defect of an electronic part automatically because filmed data can be processed by computer. Panasonic presented the new technology in the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) being held in San Francisco. Sensor samples have already been built, and evaluation for various usages has started. The new sensor can reportedly be produced with the existing semiconductor processing technology.    

Panasonic 3D sensor

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

No. 686: Monitoring survey of Nissan’s super small vehicles starts in Yokohama (February 20, 2013)

Nissan started the monitoring survey of its super small vehicle in alliance with Tokyu Corp. that is one of Japan’s leading private railway companies, Yokohama city, and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT). Nissan lends its super small vehicle named “Nissan New Mobility Concept” to seven families with small children living along the Tokyu Line to know the user-friendliness for further study toward commercial viability. This survey is organized by the MLIT, and it lasts for two weeks until March 4.

The Nissan’s super small vehicle is an electric vehicle loaded with a lithium-ion battery. It can travel 100 km per charge. It is 2,340 mm long, 1,230 mm wide, and 1,450 mm high. It has two seats, one each of front and rear. The maximum speed is 80 km/h. The seven families will use this electric vehicle in their daily life. The survey team will examine the convenience and influence over the lifestyle of the super small vehicle. The MLIT will dispatch the survey results to local governments nationwide to support their approach to the introduction of super small vehicles. It built a mechanism to allow super small vehicle to travel on the public road in January this year. It is reportedly working on the system that allows automakers to market super small vehicles toward 2015.
Nissan New Mobility Concept
Please enjoy Yokohama’s sightseeing spots 
aboard Nissan New Mobility Concept

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

No. 685: Toshiba’s new remote decontamination robot designed for Fukushima (February 19, 2013)

Toshiba developed a new remote decontamination robot in alliance with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The new robot sprays fine particles made of dry ice at high pressure to clean floors and walls contaminated by radioactive materials. Test operation will start this month in Fukushima. After checking the performance, it will start operations this summer. Toshiba compared and discussed more than 1,500 decontamination technologies that the ministry collected from the general public last year and established the method effective for the place that dried after being exposed to contaminated water.

The new robot decontaminates the floor using the impact created by spraying dry ice and the expansion force created by dry ice when it sublimates into carbon dioxide gas. The movable arm moves while spraying dry ice and decontaminates up to two-square-meter per hour. The new robot collects contaminated materials created by cleaning simultaneously as a vacuum cleaner does. 

Toshiba’s new remote decontamination robot

Thursday, February 14, 2013

No. 684: A plant factory that allows for stable year-round harvesting of strawberries (February 14, 2013)

Associate professor Takashi Ikeda of Meiji University developed a plant factory that allows for stable year-round harvesting of strawberries in alliance with Hibiya Engineering. Because strawberries are hard to grow at a high temperature, summer production usually decreases to less than hundredth of the season production. However, strawberries are in great demand for shortcakes in summer. Orec, a manufacturer of farm machinery, is constructing the new plant factory to start growing strawberries coming March. Shipment will start in summer.

Strawberries can produce berries once a year in the conventional plant factory. The new plant factory, however, makes it possible to produce berries several times by tweaking temperature and lighting duration depending on the situation of the plant. The research team adopted fluorescent tubes that are inexpensive and energy-saving than LEDs to reduce equipment and utility cost. A plant factory with a 440-square-meter growth space needs an initial investment of 60 million yen and produces 8 tons of strawberries per year. The research team reckons it is possible to get profit beginning in the initial year. 

 An introduction of a plant factory

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

No. 683: A new energy-saving distillation tower from Toyo Engineering (February 12, 2013)

Toyo Engineering, one of Japan’s leading engineering companies, developed an energy-saving distillation tower for a petroleum refinery plant. The new distillation tower can reduce energy consumption like electricity and steam by up to 75% as compared with the existing distillation tower. Toyo developed the SUPERHIDIC distillation tower in alliance with the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). The research team adopted a design that realizes internal heat exchange with small amount of electricity without using special equipment.

A distillation tower is used to separate substances with different boiling points in a composite through the repetition of evaporation and coagulation, and it consumes lots of energy like electricity and steam. For example, the distillation process consumes about 40% of all energy required in the chemical manufacturing industry. It is critical to decrease the energy consumption of a distillation tower. Toyo plans to get orders for demonstration in 2013 to commercialize the net technology as soon as possible.

Trademark registration of SUPERHIDIC is under way.

Monday, February 11, 2013

No. 682: Panasonic’s solar cell renews the world record in generation efficiency (February 11, 2013)

Panasonic has developed a solar cell that renewed the world record in generation efficiency. Panasonic’s new product has 24.7% generation efficiency, 0.5% higher than 24.2% maintained by Sunpower of the U.S. A solar cell produces various kinds of energy loss in the process to generate electricity with the sunlight coming in through a solar panel. In general, the energy loss is between 70% and 80%. It is critical to lessen the energy loss as much as possible.

Panasonic improved the film on the surface of a cell to increase the absorbed amount of sunlight and reviewed the materials and figure of the electrode. The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) measured the generation efficiency of the Panasonic’s new solar cell and confirmed that its generation efficiency is 24.7%. Panasonic plans to translate the research results into product development in the housing business to survive in the fierce price competition. 

 Panasonic’s photovoltaic system for housing 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

No. 681: Ink extremely hard to counterfeit from a Japanese printing company (February 10, 2013)

Dainippon Printing developed ink that is extremely hard to counterfeit in alliance with TagSyx Biotechnologies that is a venture company founded by an ex-researcher pf RIKEN. TagSyx has already obtained the license of the technology that uses special DNAs in Japan, the U.S., and Europe. Dainippon is scheduled to put the new ink into practical use within the month. The research team mixed an artificial DNA with special substances with ink. It is virtually impossible to counterfeit the new ink, and it is easy to distinguish it from the counterfeited ink. The two companies plan to market the new ink for documents that require high degree of anticounterfeit technology, such as marketable securities, cash vouchers, passports, and official documents, and tags and brand names put on products. Dainippon plans to control the cost increase between 10-20%. 

The artificial DNA is created by adding special substances to the molecule of the DNS extracted from plants, etc. It has a structure greatly different from DNAs available in the natural world, and it needs tremendously large amount of money to duplicate an artificial DNA with exactly the same structure. Special analytical equipment is necessary to tell whether the ink is genuine or counterfeit, and it takes 3-4 hours to make a judgment. The two companies plan to launch the analysis service business together. 

An introduction of a new product from Dainippon Printing