Friday, May 31, 2013

No. 724: A technology helpful to make high quality plastics from scrap wood and wood debris (May 31, 2013)

Researchers from Kobe University, Mitsui Chemical, and Nippon Shokubai developed a technology helpful to make high quality plastics from scarp wood and wood debris. By the recombination of bacterial gene, the new technology can extract specific type of lactic acid that is the raw material of plastics at about four times higher efficiency than the existing technology.

Several types of lactic acids exist, and two types of lactic acids, L type and D type, are helpful to make highly durable plastics. The net technology extracts cellulose and hemicellulose after processing wood debris by chemical, and makes lactic acid using lactic acid bacteria. L-lactic acid is easy to make, but D-lactic acid is hard to make. The new technology makes D-lactic acid alone by recombining the genes of lactic acid bacteria. The researchers plan to put the new technology into practical use in five years to spread bioplastics.  

Tableware made from corn

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

No. 723: NTT develops a technology to halve LSI’s power consumption (May 30, 2013)

NTT developed a technology to halve the power consumption of an LSI. The new technology uses light in place of electrons to send and receive signals. A semiconductor element with a new structure proved that signals can be sent by light at reduced power consumption. The newly-developed semiconductor element sends out signals of 10 gigabits per second. It can oscillate laser at 5.5 fj (femto joule) per bit in terms of energy. It was necessary to reduce energy consumption to less than 10 fj for the signal transmission using light, but the traditional technology was not able to reduce energy consumption to less than 80 fj. Large energy consumption for the oscillation of laser needed to be solved.

NTT’s research team built an originally-designed element with its self-developed semiconductor that sends out laser beam and confirmed that it can send information by light signals. Exchange of signals between transistors is required for the information processing inside an LSI. The new technology reduced this energy consumption considerably, halving LSI’s power consumption in the long run. NTT plans to a technology to connect LSIs on an electronic substrate by light signals in six years and connect transistors in nine years. This NTT’s achievement was published on the May 26 issue of the Nature Photonics of Great Britain. 

The next-generation video conference system 
being developed by NTT

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

No. 722: Development of wireless power feeding for EVs accelerates (May 29, 2013)

Wireless power feeding for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles is expected to be put into practical use around 2015. Every company and organization involved in the development is undergoing a fierce competition, and the development of wireless power feeding accelerates lately.

Researchers from Saitama University and Technova developed a technology to the interactive electric transmission between coils on a vehicle and those on a house. In the experiment, they transmitted electricity of 3 kW at 50 kHz frequency for a distance of 16 cm between vehicle and house and achieved about 93% efficiency in both ways. Interactive electricity transmission allows transmitting electricity stored in a vehicle back to a house and makes it usable as a power source in a disaster.

Yoichi Hori of the University of Tokyo is studying a technology to bury multiple transmission coils in the ground to relay electricity for power feeding of vehicles traveling between the transmission coils. Electromagnetic waves are liable to change when multiple coils exist between the transmitter and receiver, and it is hard to feed power exactly to the destination. His research team successfully developed a method to calculate the optimal current to be transmitted to the transmission coil using data from vehicles like voltage and current. With this method, it is possible to distribute power as needed. Showa Aircraft and Nissan are conducting the experiment to drive a carriage on the road in which coils are buried. They plan to achieve transmission efficiency of more than 80% in an interval of more than 20 cm between coils. Charging your vehicle while you are driving it naturally decreases the frequency to visit a station for charging.

Broadband Wireless Forum participated by wireless carriers will publish a new guideline on wireless power feeding on May 31. The guideline will discuss the influence of wireless power feeding on human body, though equipment with an output of several kilowatts for power feeding to EVs is not subject to the guideline at the present stage. Influence on human body is very important in addition to deregulation because electromagnetic wave at a frequency higher than 10 kHz is subject to the Radio Wave Law.   

 A demonstration of wireless power feeding

Monday, May 27, 2013

No. 721: Successful development of the basic technology to develop a semiconductor to detect murrain (May 28, 2013)

Renesas Electronics developed the basic technology for the development of a semiconductor to detect murrain. A small chip loaded with senor is put on the back of a cow, and it transmits the motion abnormality and temperature analysis of the cow wirelessly. It is expected to be helpful for early detection of foot-and-mouth disease and bird flu. The company plans to conduct substantiative experiment with universities and IT-companies and put the chip on the market in 2014.

The developed chip is one centimeter square, and it loaded with a microprocessor that converts the data coming from the senor to frequency for analysis. It detects the abnormality of such parts as body inclination and fever heat with reference to several hundred frequencies and wave patterns it stored beforehand. Communication load is reduced by providing the chip with the analysis function and transmitting a large amount of data the chip obtained to the host computer. At present, visual observation is widespread to detect a diseased livestock, but observation of each cow with the help of this new chip will prevent the disease from spreading fast. Renesas Electronics plans to develop a system to support large-scale livestock farmers jointly with IT-companies.    

Renesas-developed microprocessor with ultra low 
energy consumption operable even by a Lemon battery

No. 720: Mass production of fibers made of artificial gossamer starts within the year (May 27, 2013)

Spiber, a venture company originating from Keio University, established a technology to synthesize gossamer artificially to produce fibers, and it will start mass production in alliance with Kojima Industries that is a Toyota’s associated company. The two companies plan to establish a system to produce 100 kg artificial gossamer per month within 2013. Gossamer is regarded as the next-generation material because it is rather strong and excellent in expansion and contraction. It has rather bright future as a material for auto parts and medical parts. The annual production capacity is scheduled to expand from 1.2 tons to 10 tons toward 2015.

Spiber’s artificial gossamer is made of special protein that comes from microorganism. It has the same substances and characteristics as gossamer. However, the researchers reviewed the molecular arrangement to facilitate the combination with other materials. In addition, they increased the cultural efficiency of the microorganism by gene manipulation. Based on these innovations, they established a mass production technology of this gossamer. Spiber’s product is stronger than steel and has higher degree of expansion and contraction than nylon. Reducing the production cost by the mass production technology will open up the road to a wide range of applications including auto parts and artificial vessels.   

 Artificial gossamer developed by a venture
company originating from Keio University

A dress made of the artificial gossamer

Sunday, May 26, 2013

No. 719: Successful development of a technology to green deserts and devastated lands with fibers (May 26, 2013)

Toray developed a technology to green deserts and devastated lands. With the help of special fibers that resolve into water and carbon dioxide in 5-10 years, the technology makes it easy to retail sol moisture. Special fibers that Toray developed jointly with Mitsukawa in Fukui Prefecture are processed into tubulous forms10 cm in diameter and several tens of meters long, and they are filled with soil and lined up at regular intervals. The water retentivity of the fibers allows the surrounding soil to retain water. Even in an area where sunshine is strong, it is possible to retain water for several days. Simple irrigation facilities are enough to green deserts. The greening cost is estimated at 10,000-50,000 dollars per hectare.

Toray has been conducting the experiment to green deserts in alliance with United Nations Development Programme. Soil improvement using water retention materials has not spread easily, but an increasing number of developing countries invest in greening lately to increase food production and improve environment. Toray plans to sell the technology to South Africa. According to the Ministry of Environment, the world market of the greening business was about 2,600 billion yen in 2011.

Greening activities of the Hitachi group

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

No. 718: Honda’s successful final test of its small jet (May 22, 2013)

Honda succeeded in the flight test of its small business jet yesterday. The test model flew with the final specifications and final interior design, and data on such items as maneuverability were collected. The company wishes to get a certification from the U.S. in 2014. It already finished tests in the cold area and high-temperature environment. Yesterday’s test was to confirm the maneuverability at low speed and at high speed and the electronic system. The test was conducted in the U.S. and the jet traveled at 556 km/h at an altitude of 3,660 m above the sea for 60 minutes without any trouble.

Honda’s jet has about 18% bigger space inside the body than the competing models because it has a jet engine on the main wing. In addition, it can travel at about 10% higher speed with about 20% less fuel cost than competing models It has seven seating capacity. The selling price is about 4,500,000 dollars. Now it is the time to consider Honda not as an auto company but an engine company. Honda’s engine technology develops fast and steadily.   

Honda's small business jet succeeded in the final test flight

Honda's business jet

No. 717: Nissan starts to provide the traveling data of its EV Leaf (May 21, 2013)

Nissan will construct a system to help Internet companies worldwide develop various applications for electric vehicle (EV) by providing them with the traveling data of its Leaf. The Leaf will have a function to send various data wirelessly to Nissan’s data center. Such data as location information, travel distance, and standing time will be provided to outside software developers for the development of software and services for smartphone. Nissan will get data usage fee from the outside software developers.

New services that Nissan wishes to explore include applying Leaf’s storage battery to smart grids, distributing discount information of restaurants in real time with the help of location service, and establishing a discount parking fee for a Leaf that offers electricity while being in a pay parking lot. The idea is to make a Leaf a traveling power source. Nisan currently utilizes Lead’s travel data for the improvement of maintenance and product innovation. Nissan sold more than 60,000 Leaves worldwide. With Nissan’s innovation, merger between car and the Internet will surely accelerate.  

Nissan Leaf taxi travels in New York

Sunday, May 19, 2013

No. 716: Development of smaller artificial satellites accelerates (May 20, 2013)

A satellite that weighs less than 500 kg is defined as small satellite and a satellite that weighs between 50 kg and 100 kg is defined as ultrasmall satellite. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will operate a new base for launching small rocket to send small satellite to space. As the first step, it is scheduled to launch the small rocket Upsilon. The agency plans to reduce the cost to launch a rocket to about 3 billion yen, about a half of the existing cost, by reducing the size of a rocket. This is part of Japan’s five-year national policy to increase its competitive edge in space technology. It is planned to build a system to launch a small rocket by PC operation with a preparation period of about one week. Currently, it needs 42 days to prepare for a launch of a rocket.

Axlespace, a venture company from the University of Tokyo, plans to develop ultrasmall artificial satellites and launch three such satellites in 2015. The company wishes to get image data of the earth’s surface and provide them to mapping companies. It developed a satellite to observe the ocean water of the Arctic Sea in alliance with Weathernews. The ultrasmall satellite it plans to develop is a cube 50-60 cm on each side, and it weighs 50-60 kg. Development cost for the three satellites is estimated at one billion yen. They have the ability to identify an object 2.5 cm on each side from space. About 50 small satellites were launched worldwide in 2012, accounting for 40% of all satellites launched. With the technological progress, the world has entered into an age of small satellites.  

NASA Case Study

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

No. 715: Developing industrial applications of the high-precision Japanese GPS (May 15, 2013)

A total of about 200 companies including Toyota, Honda, and Mitsubishi Electric will establish an industry-government-academia research organization coming July to promote industrial applications of the Japanese GSP. The currently-used GPS analyzes the radio waves coming from U.S satellites to figure out a position. The Japanese GPS uses 4-7 quasi zenith satellites going around in the sky above the region from Japan and Australia describing a figure of eight. With the quasi-zenith satellite system, the error will decrease from 10 m to less than 1 m, and ultimately to less than several tens of centimeters. The organization plans to start substantiative experiment toward 2016. The “Michibiki (guidance)” launched in September 2010 is currently in operation. It stays just above Japan for eight hours a day. The Japanese government has decided to launch three quasi satellites to set up a four-satellite system by 2018.

With the technology to be realized by the Japanese GPS, it will be possible to increase the guide precision of the car navigation system and the accident prevention function of a vehicle. Other applications include precise operation and control of aircraft, even smoother train operation, detailed instructions on cropping system, optimal pesticide spraying, automated operation of farm equipment, precise control of construction machinery, and elaborate services for sightseers looking for a sightseeing spot with a smartphone in hand. The Japanese GPS can be used in the areas covered by the quasi zenith satellites including East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Australia. The Cabinet Office reckons that the position information service in the Asia and Oceania regions will grow to about 11 trillion yen in 2020, accounting for 20% of the world market.  

 Japan's first quasi zenith satellite "Michibiki (Guidance)"

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

No. 714: Renovation of the SPring-8 (May 14, 2013)

RIKEN will renovate its SPring-8, the large-scale reflection facilities with the world highest level technology of analyzing substances, located in Hyogo Prefecture with an investment of 40 billion yen. The laboratory will downsize the electromagnet to narrow down electron beam, increase the brightness of radiation light by 100 times, and uniform light quality. At the same time, it will decrease power consumption by 10 megawatts for stable operation because its activities in summer have been under control after the March 11 disaster of the nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture. It plans to start the renovation in three years after obtaining an approval from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. The new SPring-8 is scheduled for completion in 6-7 years.

Since the SPring-8 started operation in 1997, it contributed a lot to the development of IGZO and low-fuel consumption tires. It is urgently required to increase the performance of the SPring-8 for the research of the next-generation solar batteries and lithium-ion batteries. In fact, the renovation is indispensable to increase Japanese competitiveness in electronics, auto, and biotechnology. RIKEN completed its SACLA for 40 billion yen last year. The new SPring-8 is expected to cover what cannot be studied by the SACLA.     

A tour of SPring-8

No. 713: A new electrode to double the output of a fuel-cell electric vehicle (May 13, 2013)

Hiroshi Kitagawa and Hirokazu Kobayashi, both are from Kyoto University, developed a new electrode that doubles the output of a fuel-cell electric vehicle. Incorporated into the generating equipment of a fuel-cell EV, it can increase the acceleration of an EV to that of a gasoline vehicle. A metal catalyst of a nanometer size increases the output of a cell by two times. The two professors plan to put the electrode into practical use in alliance with companies involved in the production of electrodes and catalysts.

They covered a very small palladium cube of 10 nanometers square with an organic compound several nanometers thick. The organic compound stays hydrogen of fuel near palladium. When compared with the conventional electrode exposed particles of palladium, the new electrode makes is easier to occur the reaction to generate hydrogen, resulting in a higher output of the fuel cell. It is expected that the new electrode will allow easy production at the same cost of the existing electrode.

Latest fuel-cell EVs introduced in the World Smart Energy Week 2013 

Friday, May 10, 2013

No. 712: Developing advanced vehicles is in progress (May 10, 2013)

It is in the International Tokyo Toy Show held last July that Toyota exhibited the Camatte that attracted great attention from children. The Camatte is a three seated vehicle. It is 2,700 mm long, 1,300 mm wide and 1,200 mm high, and its wheelbase is 1,800 mm. It was developed by Toyota in alliance with Znug Design founded by ex-designer of Toyota. The user of a Camatte can disassemble and assemble it as if it is a toy in half a day. You can detach the front half of the body by unscrew the four knobs on the hood and headlights. It is often said that the pursuit of mass production is not successful in developing a vehicle that consumers accept with excitement.

Technology is advancing rapidly. ZMP developed a robocar. Based on Toyota’s Prius, the robocar automatically operates the accelerator and brake, and avoids obstacles. Interested in this robocar, Microsoft supports this company with the collection and analysis of such vehicle information as engine revolution, acceleration, and deceleration using its own cloud computing environment. The founder was involved in a project to develop a small robot and convinced that robots would change people life dramatically in 10 years. He came across with an excellent American programmer at home in analyzing vehicle information and developed the robocar in alliance with him. Some say that more young people will lose interest in vehicles in the future, and automakers are absorbed in searching the ways to around their curiosity.  

Introduction of the Robocar

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

No. 711: Generating electricity using gases from sewage treatment (May 7, 2013)

Fuji Electric developed a generation system that utilizes methane gas generated in the sewage treatment plant. The company developed equipment that extracts hydrogen from methane gas. Combined with the industrial fuel battery for plants and offices, the equipment generates electricity. The fuel battery has a capacity of 100 kW, and the system is available at 70 million yen that is about 40 % lower than the generally-used gas engine. Besides being high in generation efficiency, the system makes less noise. That is, it can eliminate the cost to build noise insulation equipment. The company is running the system on a trial basis in a prefecture in the Kanto region. The prefecture is expected to get sales of 60 million yen by selling electricity as against the maintenance cost of about 20 million yen per year.

Biomass generation is subject to the nationwide system to purchase electricity generated by renewable energy that started last July. Because of high initial investment, however, biomass generation is not as popular as photovoltaic generation. It accounts for only 1% of all equipment for power generation approved by electric power companies as of January 31, 2013. The purchase price of electricity produced by biomass generation is set at 40.95 yen per kW. The generation system by virtue of gas generation in sewage treatment is not widespread in the world. Fuji Electric plans to export the system to developing countries including Southeast Asian countries. According to a research firm, the world biomass generation market will grow from 21 billion yen in 2010 to 23 billion yen in 2015.  
The technology to utilize sludge for generation was first established in 2007, 
and the technology advanced to utilize methane gas in 2013.