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