Thursday, June 27, 2013

No. 743: NEC develops the cultivation business of strawberries in India (June 28, 2013)

NEC built a 1,000-square-meter water-cooling greenhouse to cultivate strawberries in the suburbs of Pune located in the western part of India last autumn. The company is marketing its “Agricultural Cloud” system in newly industrialized countries. The “Agricultural Cloud” system is designed to increase agricultural productivity with the help of NEC’s information technology. It is for soil hydraulic culture that does not need soil. It controls the temperature inside the greenhouse and nutrient elements automatically using computers. The same species that is cultivated in Japan is being cultured in India on an experimental basis. The equipment for the cultivation was developed jointly by NEC and GRA that is an agricultural production corporation. 

 International cooperation 
between India and Japan is under way.

Indian strawberries are hard, and they have low sugar content. They are sold for 110-145 yen per kilogram, whereas Japanese strawberries are 5-6 times higher in price than Indian strawberries. Because of the excellent textures, however, Japanese strawberries receive an inrush of large orders from luxurious hotels. NEC wishes women in rural areas of India to be a strawberry producer for the promotion of women’s status in India besides marketing Japanese strawberries to the wealthy class in India. The video of NEC's agricultural cloud system is available here. 

No. 742: Honda starts the demonstration experiment of its ultrasmall EV (June 27, 2013)

Honda exchanged a memorandum with two local governments to conduct the demonstration experiment of its ultrasmall EV “Microcommuter”. The two local governments will provide Honda’s EVs to sightseers and their elderly residents as a transportation device. Honda will increase the number of EVs for the experiment from 11 in 2013 to 20 in 2014. The Microcommuter being developed by Honda is a two-seater vehicle. It is 1.25 m wide, and has the maximum speed of more than 60 km/h. It can travel 60 km with one charge of electricity. Because an ultrasmall EV is not clearly defined by the Road Transport Vehicle Law, Honda’s Microcommuter can travel only in the area designated by the government at present.  

Honda's ultrasmall EV "Microcommuter"

Monday, June 24, 2013

No. 741: A transparent sheet made of wood-derived ultrafine fiber (June 24, 2013)

Oji Holdings and Mitsubishi Chemical jointly developed a transparent sheet made of wood-derived ultrafine fiber for the first time in the world. This fiber is about 1/20,000 as thick as a human hair and called cellulose nanofiber. Made of this nanometer size fiber and resin, the sheet will be used as the surface of a foldable organic EL. It will be scheduled to be put into practical use in 2016.

The newly developed sheet hardly shrinks even at a high temperature and has high degree of resistance against tension, in addition to being transparent and fordable. It is a product realized by Mitsubishi’s chemical processing technology and Oji’s papermaking technology. It will supposedly create demand for the material of organic EL and reinforcement material of resin. Oji has already started to ship samples.   

 A transparent sheet made of wood-derived ultrafine fiber
developed by Oji Holdings and Mitsubishi Chemical

Saturday, June 22, 2013

No. 740: Japanese safety standards of fuel-cell vehicles become universal (June 23, 2013)

A total of 33 countries are scheduled to adopt Japanese safety standards of fuel-cell vehicles soon. Although fuel-cell vehicles are the most promising next-generation vehicles because they do not emit exhaust fume at all, safety standards to prevent an accidental explosion of hydrogen are the most critical issue for the spread. The United Nations prepared the final draft of the safety standards mostly based on the Japanese standards, and the 33 countries including China and India are expected to agree formally with the final draft in the working group meeting to be held in Geneva of Switzerland between 24th and 28th of this month. Once the world standards are established, each of the 33 countries will modify its own system to satisfy the requirements of the world standards.

Japan established safety standards of fuel-cell vehicles in 2005 as the first country in the world. Japanese standards set the upper limit of hydrogen concentration inside the piping through which a fuel cell emits water at 4%. It is mandatory to install a system to prevent an accidental explosion when the hydrogen concentration exceeds 4%. In addition, the container needs durability that it does not deform even if increasing and decreasing the pressure inside the container is repeated for more than 22,000 times.

Toyota is trying to establish a technology that allows a fuel-cell vehicle to travel between Tokyo and Osaka, about 550 km, without additional filling of hydrogen halfway. One of the major problems with the spread of fuel-cell vehicles is the high construction cost of a hydrogen station. It costs 70-100 million yen to construct a gasoline station, whereas it costs 500-600 million yen to construct a hydrogen station. It is planned to construct 100 hydrogen stations in the urban area in 2015. According to a survey company, the world market of fuel-cell vehicles will grow dramatically form 300 million yen in 2011 to 2,910 billion yen in 2025, and sales of fuel-cell vehicles will jump from 40 units to more than 1,300,000 units. 

 Toyota's FCV-R

No. 739: A government-subsidized project to make a carbon fiber vehicle practicable in 2020 starts soon (June 22, 2013)

Carbon fiber is 10 times stronger than iron, though it weighs only a quarter of iron. A vehicle that employs carbon fiber can improve fuel consumption by 40%. Because parts made of carbon fiber cost over 10 times more than those made of iron, carbon fiber is currently used only in high-end vehicles. However, rapid progress of processing technology reportedly will make it possible to supply carbon fiber for mass production vehicles in the late 2010s. A project participated by leading companies and universities including Toyota, Toray, and the University of Tokyo will start to address the development of vehicles made entirely of carbon fiber this July. The Japanese government has decided to support this project with a nearly four billion yen grant this year, and will allocate several tens of billion yen for the next 5-10 years.

Because replacing iron with carbon fiber alone makes an autobody 30% lighter, the project will design autobody and undercarriage suitable for carbon fiber to make an autobody lighter by 60%. Iron and steel will be used for engine accessories and axle bearings because they have higher degree of resistance against heat and abrasion than carbon fiber. Toray Corporate Business Research reckons that the world carbon fiber market was about 40,000 tons in 2011 of which 2,000 tons went to vehicles and that demand for vehicles will start to grow around 2015 and reach several tens of thousand tons in the 2020s. 

The carbon fiber electric vehicle built by Toray

Friday, June 21, 2013

No. 738: A new product from Teijin to replace the traditional injection syringe (June 21, 2013)

Teijin developed a tiny needle that replaces the traditional metal needle. As the photo shows, they are lined on the surface of a sheet for medication. Each of them is finer than the sting of a mosquito, and does not create any pain even though it stabs in the skin. In addition, it will melt in the body even though it is broken inside the body. The experiment that uses human bodies will start in 2016, and the new product is expected to be a commercial reality in 2020.        

(Photo) Teijin's newly-developed tiny needles made of biodegradable polyester.   

The tiny needle is 0.02-0.03 mm thick and less than 1.0 mm long. Drugs and vaccines applied on the surface of the tiny needle filter into the human body. Made of biodegradable polyester, it resolves inside the human body over time even though it is broken inside the human body. The experiment that uses mice has already begun. It is hard to react with a drug because they are made of biodegradable polyester. Accordingly, efficacy of the drug applied on it does not deteriorate even though treated needed is stored for a long period. It can be produced at a lower cost than the metal needle, and it does not create any anxiety over allergy.   

Thursday, June 20, 2013

No. 737: A new technology to recover rare earths from used motors effectively (June 20, 2013)

Professor Katsunori Yamaguchi of Iwate University developed a technology for effective recovery of rare earths from used magnets contained in the motors of eco-cars and home electronics in alliance with JX Nippon Mining and Metals. Currently, it is necessary to take off nickel plating by hand and break used motors into fragments, and subsequently found the fragments with hydrochloric acid. It takes one day to finish this process.

The new technology is to mix used magnets with boron and heat them to 1,200 degrees centigrade, and subsequently take them apart to recover neodymium and dysprosium that have a purity of higher than 99% in half the time required by the existing method at a lower cost. Heating the treated magnet to 1,200 degrees centigrade dissolves it into oxidized boron, composite containing neodymium and dysprosium, iron, carbon, and nickel alloy. And the recovered neodymium and dysprosium are burned at 400-500 degrees centigrade for one hour. In the experiment, the recovered rare earths had a purity of up to 99.5%. The professor is confident that this technology can be put to practical use when a process to eliminate harmful substances produced in recovery is established.  

Recycling rare earths

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

No. 736: The realities of fuel-cell vehicles (2/2) (June 19, 2013)

There are 19 hydrogen stations for substantiative experiment, five of which are operated by JX Nippon and Oil that operates 40% of all gas stations in Japan. The oil industry plans to build 100 hydrogen stations across the country by 2015. The industry’s active attitude can be attributed to the profitability brought about by fuel-cell vehicles. An electric vehicle charging station can make several hundred yen per charge that takes about 30 minutes, while a hydrogen station can make several thousand yen per filling that takes three minutes. A hydrogen station becomes profitable if it can get 2,000 fuel-cell vehicles per day, and this is the same level of a gasoline station.

A hydrogen station operated by Idemitsu

A mobile hyddrogen station

A fuel-cell vehicle has higher energy efficiency than a gasoline vehicle. It is said that a fuel-cell vehicle has about two times higher overall energy efficiency that a gasoline vehicle. A fuel-cell vehicle has 40% energy efficiency, followed by a hybrid vehicle with 34%, electric vehicle with 33%, and gasoline vehicle with 19%. As a matter of fact, fuel-cell vehicles help Japan reduce energy consumption greatly, and it is not a dream for Japan to become a country of energy independence.

In a city devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, a public-private project to build a hydrogen town is under way. It aims to produce hydrogen from gases created by local wood and use the produced hydrogen for fuel of fuel-cell vehicles. It is a project for local production for local consumption of energy independent of oil and nuclear generation. A standard fuel-cell sedan can supply electricity to a standard household for more than a week, longer than an electric vehicle does. The government subsidizes private projects to build more than 100 hydrogen stations.

These projects are part of the driving force to create new markets related to the supply of hydrogen. A consulting firm reckons that the market of more than 10 trillion yen will be created for the construction of 10,000 hydrogen stations. Hydrogen can be produced in the oil refining process and steelmaking process. Oil refineries produce a large amount of hydrogen to eliminate sulfur in the refining process of gasoline, and surplus hydrogen will increase as the downsizing of oil refineries continues.

Japan imported 290 million kiloliters of oil for 8,670 billion dollars in 1973, whereas it paid 13 times more value to import 220 million kiloliters of oil in 2010. In addition, fossil fuel will surely be depleted in the future. Fuel-cell vehicles will be Japan’s powerful card to prepare for the energy crisis in the future.   

    Let's try to fill hydrogen 

No. 735: The realities of fuel-cell vehicles (1/2) (June 18, 2013)

A fuel-cell vehicle is scheduled to be put on the market for five million yen in 2015. Toyota is conducting the substantiative experiment to drive a fuel-cell vehicle at such a low temperature as minus 10 degrees centigrade in Hokkaido and in the Nevada desert in the U.S. The development is reportedly in the final stage. Honda is working with Saitama Prefectural Government. The project is to generate electricity by the solar batteries on the rooftop of the government building and hydrogen by the electrolysis of tap water using power that comes from the rooftop, the hydrogen produced is filled in a fuel-cell vehicle. An engineer of the project said, “The fuel-cell vehicle technology is no longer a technology of the future. It will surely be put to practical use in two years.”

A fuel-cell vehicle uses hydrogen as fuel. Water is produced when hydrogen reacts with oxygen in the air, and the reaction generates energy that runs a motor. The two great advantages provided by a fuel-cell vehicle is that it has almost the same or a longer travel distance per charge as a gasoline vehicle and that you can fill hydrogen as fast as you put gas in a gasoline vehicle.

(Photo) A Saitama Prefectural Government official is conducting an experiment to create hydrogen by the electrolysis of tap water using electricity generated by solar batteries on the rooftop of the building.  

A fuel-cell vehicle attracted attention about 10 years ago, but it cost 10 million yen to build a fuel-cell vehicle. Now technology developed quite rapidly, and various innovations occurred. For example, a tank to store hydrogen is much stronger, smaller, and lighter than one created 10 years ago thanks to the development of a technology to coil a hydrogen tank with carbon fiber. Because the Japanese government is considering supplying a subsidiary to the design of autobody, a fuel-cell vehicle may be as low as four million yen.

A consulting firm predicts that fuel-cell vehicles will account for 5% in 2025 and 10% in 2030 of all vehicles and that the impact on the overall economy will be 2,700 billion yen. In fact, various new industries related to the fuel-cell vehicle are going to be established. 

 Fuel-cell vehicles displayed in the  FC Expo 2013

Toyota's fuel-cell vehicle

Nissan's four-wheel fuel-cell vehicle Terra

Honda's fuel-cell vehicle runs on the public road

Sunday, June 16, 2013

No. 734: Sushi robots boost Japanese presence in the world (June 17, 2013)

Business trend:
Suzumo Machinery, Japan’s leading maker of sushi robots, decided to increase the production capacity 40% within the year. Sushi, a Japanese traditional rice cuisine coming with raw fish, is growing popular worldwide because it is delicious and healthy. The company now exports its sushi robots to 70 countries and planning to increase the number of importing countries to 100.

Suzumo’s sushi robots can make fluffy sushi as if sushi chef does, their sales are growing both at home and abroad. Suzumo’s sushi robots are mainly used by conveyor belt sushi bars. Yoshinoya, one of the leading gyudon (beef bowl) chains, has adopted Suzumo’s robots recently. With the increasing income of people in developing countries, sushi is expected to grow popular among the middle-income group in those countries. Suzumo’s sushi robots are priced at 1,300,000 yen per unit. 

 Suzumo's sushi robot

Visit a conveyor belt sushi bar

Thursday, June 13, 2013

No. 733: New glasses for Canon’s Mixed Reality (MREAL) system (June 13, 2013)

Canon developed the special glasses for its Mixed Reality (MREAL) system that displays the image of a product under development. It looks like a binoculars, the user can see the product image in the real space. Unlike the existing model, it is smaller and easier to handle in an exhibition hall and a meeting room.

The MREAL was launched in July 2012. It synthesizes a camera image in the same level with the eye line and 3-D CAD data on the display inside the glasses. The frequency of examining a trial product decreases because the image of a real product is displayed as if it is a real product. The company shipped more than 20 systems to automakers and construction companies.  

 New special glasses for the MREAL system

Canon's Mixed Reality (MREAL) system

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

No. 732: Low cost thermal power generation using a byproduct of oil refinery as fuel (June 11, 2013)

JX Nippon Oil and Energy decided to build a thermal power plant that uses a byproduct of oil refinery as fuel. The new type power generation system will likely to compete with coal fired power generation, which is least expensive among all power generation using fossil fuel, in terms of cost by using an unutilized resource. The new plant will be built inside its refinery in Ibaraki Prefecture. It is planned to start operation in March 2016 with a generation capacity of 100,000 kW. The investment will be ten and several billion yen that is almost the same value required to build a coal fired power plant. The company plans to sell electricity to Tokyo Electric Power Company as an independent power producer (IPP) and sell it directly to neighbor plants.

Thick tarry liquid is left after gasoline and light oil are recovered in the oil refinery process, and the new system utilizes this thick tarry liquid. After transforming the thick tarry liquid as solid fuel, it turns a turbine using the steam creased by burning the solid fuel. JX Nippon Oil and Energy so far selling the residues to chemical companies for a very low price, but it decided to hold down the generation cost by utilizing residues. In addition, fuel oil can be squeezed in the process to produce solid fuel, and the new system emits 10-15% less carbon dioxide than the traditional coal fired thermal plant. The company entered into electricity wholesale trade in 1998, and its generation capacity will increase to 1,500,000 kW when the new thermal power plant starts operation.   

One of JX Nippon Oil and Energy's oil refineries

Sunday, June 9, 2013

No. 731: The Japanese linear car running on the main line is opened to the press (June 10, 2013)

Central Japanese Railway opened its “L0 series” linear car to the press. The linear car traveled not on the test line but on the main line for the first time. The examination of equipment and instruments will start this month, and the test run is scheduled for coming September.

The linear car will realize levitation traveling at 500 km/h by superconductivity, but it traveled at less than 150 km/h using robber tiers used for low-speed running for the press.    

The L0 series linear car is opened to the press

Let's experience the world of 500 km/h

Saturday, June 8, 2013

No. 730: Successful development of a technology to analyze encrypted data without returning them to unencrypted original data (June 9, 2013)

NTT developed a technology to analyze encrypted data as they are. Because it allows information processing without returning them to unencrypted original data, it reduces the leakage risk of personal information and corporate confidential information. Because Japan is scheduled to enforce the ‘my number system’ that numbers people in January 2016, it is an urgent need to establish a system to prevent it from being abused. What NTT developed is a secret calculation technology. The new technology can rearrange data by item and figure out the average of specific data without cracking their codes. It can rearrange data of 100,000 people in 1.5 seconds, the world’s fastest time at present.

Companies and municipalities are susceptible for leakage of confidential information when they get encrypted data back to unencrypted original data for analysis. To cope with the so-called cyberterrorism, NTT’s new technology reckons that the secret calculation technology is of great help. It also plans to utilize the new technology for effective search of the effect of treatment approaches and efficacy of pharmaceuticals without specifying an individual from the vast amounts of data owned by multiple medical institutions. 

NTT's monitoring technology of cyberattacks

Friday, June 7, 2013

No. 729: Railroad wheel two times more durable than the existing one (June 8, 2013)

Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal developed a highly durable railroad wheel for railroad vehicles in the U.S. that transport heavy cargoes. It does not abrade away easily, and it is two times more durable than the existing railroad wheel. The company shipped 1,000 sheets to railroad companies in the U.S. for the substantiative experiment. The company increased the carbon content in the steel for higher intensity. Steel becomes liable to display cracks should the intensity increase, but the company improved the manufacturing process to increase intensity and durability simultaneously.

In the U.S., the double stack train that carries one container on top of another is widespread. Accordingly, wheel and rail need to bear a large amount of burden. The new railroad wheel from Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal conforms to the specifications set by the railroad industry association of the U.S., and only three companies – Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal, its subsidiary in the U.S., and an American company – are allowed to manufacture this new product. Annual demand for railroad wheels is 1,200,000 sheets in the U.S., and Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal estimates that the new product will account for 70% in the market in the future. The new product will be promising for railroad wheels also in Australia and Brazil where railroad cars transport heavy natural resources. 

A double stack train near Tucson in Arizona

No. 728: World’s first glass roof bench appears in the Confederation Cup starting on June 15 (June 7, 2013)

At the request of Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), Asahi Glass developed the world’s first glass roof bench to be used in the six stadiums in the Confederation Cup starting on June 15. It is 11.5 m long, 1 m deep, and 1.9 m high. Each stadium will have five glass roof benches of this kind. The company will improve it and install the improved version in the 15 venues of the World Cup in 2014. 

The company applied, Dragontrail, its strengthened glass technology used for smartphones. The new glass roof does not discolor easily besides being stronger than the standard resin roof. A players’ bench that is 12 meters wide needs glass equivalent to glass required by 7,000 smartphones. Asahi Glass is building a plant in Brazil scheduled for operation within the year for the construction and vehicle markets in Brazil.     

    A glass roof bench for the Confederation Cup 
starting on June 15

Dragontrail - strengthened glass from Asahi Glass

Thursday, June 6, 2013

No. 727: Successful development of a spear-like underwater robot (June 6, 2013)

A research team led by Prof. Sadao Kawamura of Ritsumeikan University developed a spear-like underwater robot for the survey of layers below riverbed. It looks like a spear, and the user sticks it into the bottom and collects soil down to 50 cm. It is 2 m long and about 20 cm in diameter, and it moves using six screws in water. By controlling the position, it thrusts into the bottom at a right angle. The pipe on the top collects soil. The layer down to 50 cm from the bottom gives 5,000 years’ worth of information.

Traditionally, a submersible bigger than several tons is required for the survey of bottom layer. It is hard to increase the observation points because of required cost and labor. However, the newly-developed underwater robot can be operated by several people. Because it is possible to know the change of past temperatures and distribution of organism by surveying rocks and vestiges in the layer, the new robot expected to contribute to the research of climate change and natural disaster.  

Monday, June 3, 2013

No. 726: World’s most accurate GPS is in practical use in 2018 (June 4, 2013)

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and such high-tech companies as Mitsubishi Electric and NEC jointly developed a world’s most accurate location measurement technology that uses the next-generation satellites. The new technology can reduce the measurement deviation to only one centimeter that is one thousandth of the one provided by the existing GPS. The Japanese government will make necessary arrangements including satellites toward 2018, and private companies will start offering services.

Japan currently obtains positioning data from U.S. satellites, and the measurement deviation is about 10 meters. Data used for location measurement get confused under the influence of layers that reflect radio waves. Mitsubishi Electric developed equipment to compensate data using its highly advanced analysis technology. The compensated data will be dispatched from JAXA’s communication base to the quasi-zenith satellite to increase the measurement accuracy dramatically. NCE will be in charge of developing the next-generation communication technology for data exchange between the ground and satellite.

Applications of the Japanese GPS to be launched in 2018

High-performance car navigation system. It will be possible to guide the users exactly to the entrance of a building in addition to providing guidance of back alleys.  
Helpful to the practical application of unmanned operation
Automated planting and harvesting  
Introduce sightseeing spots and shops in accordance with walking speed
Detailed tracking of packages in transit
Disaster prevention
Dispatch the evacuation route in detail to mobile phones in a time of disaster

The Japanese government plans to sell the quasi-zenith satellite system to emerging countries in Asia. It is scheduled to launch three quasi-zenith satellites. Because Asian countries can utilize the Japanese quasi-zenith satellites, they can establish a highly advanced location information service with an investment of 100 billion yen in ground facilities. Currently, the space industry is 250 billion yen in Japan, merely one fifteenth of the U.S.

Believe it or not, an incumbent Japanese diet woman screamed “Why aren’t you satisfied with the second place?” in a meeting. Ironically enough, however, her screaming let the fighting sprit of Japanese scientists and researchers flare up. Let's try hard to become No. 1 under the leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. 

Japanese GPS compensation technology is advancing.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

No. 725: A hydrogen power plant is no longer a dream (June 3, 2013)

Chiyoda Corp. developed a technology necessary to put hydrogen power generation to practical use. The company has already been having business negotiations with several energy-related companies both at home and abroad, and the world’s first hydrogen power plant is expected to start operation in a few years at the earliest. Hydrogen power generation does not emit carbon dioxide. On top of that, Japan is self-sufficient in hydrogen. The company plans to apply the new technology to the provision of hydrogen fuel for fuel-cell electric vehicles.

Hydrogen can be used as fuel for gas turbine power generation, but it is hard to store and transport hydrogen because hydrogen easily catches fire besides being bulky. To use hydrogen as fuel for power generation, it is necessary to store a fixed amount of hydrogen at lower than minus 253 degrees centigrade by way of liquefaction. Chiyoda Corp. developed equipment that allows storage and transportation of liquefied hydrogen at normal temperature and subsequently extract only hydrogen efficiently. The equipment can provide hydrogen to a small-scale generation plant with an output of 100,000 kW. It will be priced at around 10 billon yen.

Hydrogen can be stored at normal temperature should it be mixed with toluene, but it was very hard to extract only hydrogen from the mixture. The equipment built by Chiyoda Corp. can extract only hydrogen at such high efficiency of more than 98% with the help of its originally-developed catalytic agent. Hydrogen power generation costs less than oil-fired power generation, but it costs 80% higher than gas-fired power generation.