Wednesday, December 31, 2014

No. 862: Technology development for the age of fuel cell vehicles is in progress (1/5) (January 1, 2015)

Toyota’s fuel cell vehicle Mirai (the future) was put on the market on December 15, 2013. At present, only several dealers display a Mirai and customers have to wait for one to two years to take delivery because production is limited. The planned annual production is 700 units and planned annual sales target is 400 units. Reportedly, Toyota has already got an order for 1,000 units. You can buy a Mirai for about 5,200,000 yen with a subsidy form the government. The key to the spread of fuel cell vehicles is the accessibility to a hydrogen station. Although there are only two hydrogen stations at present, 43 stations are scheduled to be constructed with a subsidy from the government.

JX Nippon Oil and Energy will build 10 hydrogen production bases toward 2020 to supply hydrogen across the country through its 2,000 gas stations. It will apply new technologies to reduce the production and transportation costs to less than half. It plans to develop a new technology to produce hydrogen at a low cost toward 2018. Hydrogen is recovered from oil, natural gas, and exhausted gases, and catalyst is used to recover hydrogen from exhausted gases. The new technology is expected to increase the recovery rate from the present 70% to 90%. At the same time, it will put a new technology to transport hydrogen at normal temperature and normal pressure into practical application with a view to increasing the transportable amount per lorry by 2.5 times. Tokyo Gas opened its hydrogen station available for general customers on December 18, 2013 in Tokyo. The market of fuel cell vehicles is estimated to grow to 400,000 units toward 2030. 

A charming Japanese actress visits a hydrogen station

 Tokyo Gas builds a hydrogen station  in Tokyo

Let's drive a Mirai

Monday, December 1, 2014

No. 861: Development of a bendable lithium-ion battery (December 1, 2014)

Semiconductor Energy Laboratory has developed a bendable lithium-ion battery. It is about 2 mm thick, and it employed highly flexible materials for both the positive and negative electrodes. Its shape can be changed freely: from a nearly flat shape to a curved shape. The exterior made of aluminum has very tiny irregularities to increase retractility. Lithium cobaltate is applied to an aluminum foil to build the positive electrode, whereas carbon is applied to a copper foil to build a negative electrode. The two electrodes are piled vertically. When the bendable battery is curved, tensile force is applied to the upper side and compassion force is applied to the underside. The irregularities on the exterior allow the exterior to expand and contract, and thereby they absorb pressure not to cause any cracks.

After bending the new lithium-ion battery for 10,000 times, the research team confirmed that neither the charge-discharge performance nor the exterior was damaged. It is planned to incorporate the new bendable lithium-ion battery in underside of a wrist watch type terminals and in the temples of glasses. Because terminal manufacturers can get a high degree of freedom in product designing, negotiations between Semiconductor Energy Laboratory and terminal manufacturers are reportedly under way. 

Newly developed bendable lithium-ion battery

Saturday, November 29, 2014

No. 860: Developing space power generation is accelerating (November 29, 2014)

An industry-government-university alliance will accelerate the development efforts for the practical application of space power generation. The Japanese government, Japan Space Systems, MitsubishiElectric, IHI Aerospace, and others will conduct the world’s first experiment to transmit electricity generated by space power generation on the ground in Kyoto University coming December. To put space power generation into practical utilization, it is necessary to install a huge solar panel on the geostationary orbit 36,000 km above the ground, transform the generated electricity to microwave, and transmit the microwave to the earth wirelessly. The microwave received by the antenna on the ground is transformed to electricity.   

The experiment will be conducted from December 5 to the end of March next year. The research team members have built small equipment for the research. They will transform electricity to radio called microwave and transmit it to the reception antenna on the ground about 50 m away from the small equipment. They will examine whether or not they can control the direction of radio transmission finely and transform ratio to electricity without waste. Equipment for space power generation needs to be lighter and smaller to realize space power generation. At the present technological level, it is estimated to cost 1-2 trillion yen to launch necessary equipment. Based on the results of the ground experiment, the research members will accelerate the efforts to reduce the weight of transmission equipment to about one fourth.

The Japanese government plans to conduct transmission experiment in space in the 2030s and put space power generation into practical utilization after the 2040s. It will publish a road map for the practical utilization next year. It has already announced its decision to promote the development of space power generation in the draft of the Basic Plan for Space Policy published in November. 

Introduction to space power generation

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

No. 859: You can buy a Toyota’s fuel cell vehicle for about 5 million yen on December 15 (November 18, 2014)

Toyota's FCV Mirai
Toyota will put its fuel cell vehicle (FCV) on the Japanese market on December 15. It is priced at 7,236,000 yen, but you can buy one for about 5,200,000 yen because you can get a government subsidy. Named Mirai (the future), it can travel up to about 650 km with a tankful hydrogen. It takes only 3 minutes to fill the tank. In a sense, fuel cell vehicle can be dubbed as the ultimate eco-car as shown by the following table.

Fuel cell vehicle
Electric vehicle
Hybrid vehicle
Hydrogen and oxygen
Gasoline and oxygen
Hydrogen station
(About 40 stations are scheduled)
Charge station
(About 6,000 stations)
Gas station
(34,700 stations)
Time to fill it up
3 minutes
30 minutes (quick charge)
3 minutes
Cost to travel 1 km
10 yen
2 yen
5 yen
Travel distance
650 km
230 km
1,370 km
7,236,000 yen
2,872,800 yen
2,232,000 yen
What is discharged
Carbon dioxide

As the above table indicates, the problem with FCV is the number of stations to fill hydrogen. Toyota Tsusho, one of Toyota’s group companies, will establish a new company to operate mobile hydrogen stations in alliance with Iwatani and Taiyo Nippon Sanso. It takes 500-600 million yen to construct a fixed station, but the construction cost of a mobile station is about a half of this amount. In addition to subsidizing the construction cost, the government will soon formulate a system to make hydrogen available as low in price as gasoline in alliance with Toyota and Honda. Various companies involved in building FCVs have started to do business with Toyota. A consulting firm in Tokyo predicts that the Japanese domestic market of FCVs will be 400,000 units in 2030. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government plans to introduce FVCS for its official vehicles and metropolitan buses.

 Introduction to Toyota's Mirai (the future)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

No. 858: Successful development of an inexpensive catalyst for fuel cell vehicles (November 6, 2014)

Teijin developed an inexpensive catalyst for fuel cell vehicles in cooperation with Tokyo Institute of Technology. The company used iron and nitrogen for the catalyst in place of platinum. The new catalyst exhibits only 70% of the catalyst made of platinum at present, but Teijin plans to improve its performance and reduce its price to less than one tenth of the existing catalyst.

The company used iron compounds like iron chloride and polymer polyacrylonitrile (PAN) that contains nitrogen. The iron compounds and PAN are dissolved in a solvent, and they are subjected to heat treatment in a gas that contains ammonia. Subsequently, the research team created a particle several hundred nanometers in diameter. They build a fuel cell using this particle as catalyst, and obtained about 0.4 volt in 1 ampere current. Teijin made a presentation of this catalyst in the international conference of the Electrochemical Society of the U.S.  

Let's drive a Honda's fuel cell vehicle

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

No. 857: Research to lower the production cost of a solar battery is growing intense (November 5, 2014)

Strenuous efforts to lower the production cost of a solar battery are being made in Japanese universities. Susumu Noda of Kyoto University applied photonic crystal, a nanotechnology to confine light, to the production of a solar battery. His research team successfully reduced the thickness of a solar battery to 500 nanometers, smaller than one quarter of the thickness of the existing solar battery, while maintaining the current level of generation efficiency. If this technology is established, it will be possible to reduce the production cost of a solar battery to less than half.

NaraInstitute of Science and Technology developed a new processing method of a solar battery in alliance with Teijin. The new processing method produces a solar battery by mixing multiple materials while radiating laser to them. It can reduce the production cost to less than half of the production cost of the existing method that uses the semiconductor manufacturing technology. Yasushi Sobajimaof Osaka University built a solar battery using low-priced amorphous (non-crystalline) silicon. Although amorphous easily deteriorates, his team improved the durability of solar battery by controlling materials at the atomic level. His new technology can be applied to a high performance solar battery and will reduce the production cost of a solar battery to a fraction of the production cost using amorphous silicon.  

Panosonic's solar battery plant starts operations

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

No. 856: You can drive a Toyota’s fuel cell vehicle on the road in December (October 16, 2014)

Toyota will put its fuel cell vehicles on the consumer market in this December earlier than scheduled because the production system is ready now. The company will start the production in December. Named Mirai (the future), it is a four-seater sedan and capable of  traveling about 650 km with a tankful liquefied hydrogen. It takes only three minutes to fill it up. Mirais will mostly go to public offices in the initial stage, but about 20 units will be set aside for the consumer market every month. It is priced at 7 million yen, but a shopper can buy one for 5 million yen because he can get a subsidiary from the government.

The annual production is set at 700 units at this moment, but the company plans to increase the production in light of the spread of hydrogen station. Currently, Japan has about 30 hydrogen stations mainly in the four metropolitan areas of Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Fukuoka, but the government plan to increase the number of hydrogen stations to 100 in 2015. The company has reportedly received an order for nearly 1,000 units as against the annual production of 700 units. It plans to introduce the fuel cell vehicle in Europe and the United States in the summer of 2015. 

 Toyota's Mirai is coming soon.

Introducton to Toyot's fuel cell vehicle

Friday, August 29, 2014

No. 855: Increasing the capacity of an air battery (August 30, 2013)

A total of 11 organizations including Furukawa Battery, Nikon, and Nissan work together on the project to increase the capacity of an air battery. In the first stage, Furukawa Battery will put an emergency power source with a generation capacity of 300 W for mobile devices into practical use within the year. The project team aims to construct a system with a generation capacity of 3 kW for household use in five years and a system with a generation capacity of 1,000 kW that can be used for a small-size power plant in 10 years. Furukawa Battery is scheduled to mass produce disposable air battery for emergency within the year.

An air battery has 10 times higher energy density than a lithium-ion battery of the same weight because magnesium used for the negative electrode radiates lots of electrons. In addition, it is possible to simplify the structure of the positive electrode. The existing technology does not allow an air battery to be reused because the negative electrode oxidizes once it is exhausted. Nikon plans to develop a mechanism to deoxidize the negative electrode made of magnesium utilizing solar heat and waste heat of a manufacturing plant with a view to making an air battery reusable for power generation.

An electric motorcycle loaded with an air battery 
for emergency. It can run only with salt solution.

The world's first mega solar equipped with 
storage batteres that use used batteries

No. 854: Developing an LSI to display all around a vehicle in three dimensions (August 29, 2013)

Renesas Electronics developed a system LSI that displays all around a vehicle in three dimensions. The new system LSI synthesizes images shot by multiple cameras and recognizes people and obstacles around a vehicle. Because it gives a warning when it recognizes a man or an obstacle around a vehicle, it allows a vehicle driver to avoid an accident should it be utilized by the parking assistance system.

The new system LSI has 8 times higher processing capability of recognized images than the existing system, and it can synthesize 3D images and recognize various objects including a man in real time. It can support up to 6 cameras. The company starts to ship samples 5,000 yen apiece this September. The mass production is scheduled for October 2016, and it plans to produce 500,000 pieces per month in 2017. It wishes to upgrade the new system LSI to be applied to the automatic braking system in the future.

 Toyota's advanced parking assistance system

Thursday, August 28, 2014

No. 853: Mass production technology of energy-saving power semiconductors (August 28, 2013)

Japanese leading companies including Panasonic and Japanese leading universities including Osaka University will jointly develop a mass production technology of energy-saving power semiconductors with the support of the government. Utilizing the technology to generate gallium nitride crystals developed by Osaka University, the project aims to strengthen Japan’s competitive edge in the power semiconductor where Japan currently has 60% share.

The maximum diameter of a wafer is 4.5 inches at the present stage, and the project plans to increase the diameter to 6.0 inches in two years under the initiative of Hitachi Metals. A power semiconductor larger than 6.0 inches in diameter will realize efficient production and lower production cost. In addition, it will reduce energy loss incurred in the exchange from alternate current to direct current to less than 6% of the present level. The technology involved in the development of gallium nitride can be applied to LED. The government estimates that spreading power semiconductors will make it possible to reduce power consumption corresponding to that of 8 million households. It has allocated about 1,400 million yen for the project for 2015 and will continue to fund it in 2016.  

  The highly efficient SIC power semiconductor 
released by Toyota on May 20, 2014

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

No. 852: Producing hydrogen from liquefied petroleum gas (August 26, 2013)

Osaka Gas is scheduled to start marketing equipment that produces hydrogen from liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) using its self-developed catalyst within the year. It can produce 300 cubic meters of hydrogen per hour, amount of hydrogen for six fuel cell vehicles. It is priced at about 200 million yen. The company developed equipment to produce hydrogen from city gas last year. It plans to install these two kinds of equipment to 100 hydrogen stations across the country by 2025.  

Currently, hydrogen is supplied to hydrogen stations after it is liquefied in the refinery. The equipment to be launched by Osaka Gas eliminates the necessity of installing a tank and arranging a special vehicle to transport liquefied hydrogen. Thereby, hydrogen will be cheaper. Currently, about 25 million households use LPG as household fuel. Osaka Gas will build its first gas station where this equipment in the spring of 2015. Japanese automakers are energetically developing fuel cell vehicles and the Japanese government is supporting infrastructure improvement for the spread of fuel cell vehicles.  

The equipment to produce hydrogen
 Toyota's fuel cell vehicle for 2014

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

No. 851: Detecting narcotic drugs inside without opening an envelope (August 7, 2013)

The research team led by Kodo Kawase of Nagoya University developed a technology to detect narcotic and stimulant drugs in an envelope without opening it. The technology narrows down the components of what is contained in an envelope using terahertz waves. It is effective to detect these illegal drugs inside an international mail envelope made from heavy paper. Although terahertz waves go through paper, terahertz waves of a specific wavelength are absorbed when they hit narcotic and stimulant drugs. Because legal drugs and foods contain more impurities than narcotic drugs, they absorb terahertz waves of a wide range of wavelength. The research team members utilized this characteristic to detect narcotic and stimulant drugs.

They built a 50 cm square trial model and successfully distinguished 20 kinds of narcotic and stimulant drugs contained in envelope from legal drugs and foods contained in envelope. This technology can be used for antiterrorism measures because it is effective not only to detect illegal drugs but also to detect explosives. They plan to make the technology practicable in a few years with a view to using it in airports and international post offices. At the present stage, it costs about 30 million yen to build equipment based on this technology, but they wish to reduce the cost to one tenth.

Now it is possible to detect illegal drugs in 
an envelope without opening it.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

No. 850: Development of a lithium-ion battery usable for 70 years (August 5, 2014)

Sharp and Isao Tanaka of Kyoto University developed a lithium-ion battery usable for as long as 70 years. In the experiment, the new battery allows 25,000 times of discharge and charge. That is, it is usable for 70 years if it is discharged and charged on a daily basis. The existing lithium-ion battery is usable for 10 years at the longest. The researchers plan to make it practicable as the battery for wind and photovoltaic generation. The trial product is 8 cm square. They optimized the combination of materials of the positive electrode, such as ion and silicon, with the help of computer and the latest simulation technology.

They confirmed the usability by conducting 10,000 times of discharge and charge and analyzed that it is usable for six times longer than the existing lithium-ion battery. The research results were published in the electronic version of the British science magazine “Nature Communications.”    

Brilliant Japanese researchers make a breakthrough

No. 849: Japanese government supports the development of space photovoltaic generation (August 4, 2014)

The Japanese government will support the research on weight-saving of antenna used for electric transmission in space photovoltaic generation beginning in the next summer. In space photovoltaic generation, a huge solar panel will be installed on an artificial satellite on stationery orbit 36,000 km above the ground. Generated electricity is converted to microwave and transmitted to the ground, and the microwave is converted to power on the ground. In addition to the ability to generate power night and day regardless of weather, space photovoltaic generation does not need large –scale equipment on the ground. The technology will be put into practical use between 2040 and 2050.

In the current technological level, conversion efficiency from electricity to microwave and from microwave to power and transmission of power is very low. It costs more than 1 trillion yen to build facilities for the conversion. To overcome this stalemate, the government plans to reduce the weight of the antenna to less than one hundredth and thickness to about one tenth. At the same time, it wishes to increase the efficiency of the semiconductor used to covert power to electric wave from the present 70% to 80%. It will select companies and research institutes for the project from among the public in this month. It will subsidize about 25 million yen for the three-year project and draw a progress schedule in alliance with Japan Aerospace Exploration Space Agency within this year.  

 Research on space photovoltaic generation is 
advancing steadily.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

No. 848: Japan’s latest weather satellite Himawari 8 is launched in October (July 31, 2014)

Japan Meteorological Agency will launch Japan’s latest weather satellite “Himawari (Sunflower) 8” in October. It will start observation in summer of 2015, succeeding the Himawari 7 now in operation. The Himawari 8 will deliver color photos for the first time in the world as a geostationary weather satellite. Shooting accuracy improved considerably to tell the development of cumulonimbus that brings about guerilla rainstorm. The camera mounted on the Himawari 8 can shoot 500 square meters instead of 1,000 square meters that the camera mounted on the Himawari 7 can shoot.

At the same time, filmed images increase from five kinds to 16 kinds. The color photos will allow high precision observation of yellow sand and volcanic ashes. While the Himawari 7 shoots images every 30 minutes, the Himawari 8 can shoot images in every 10 minutes. In addition, it can shoot every 2 minutes and 30 seconds only in the case that it shoots areas closed to Japan and a typhoon. I will be launched from the Tanegashima Space Center. Exact date of launch will be set shortly.    

 Himawari 8

 CC of Himawari 8