Japanese Technology Update: carbon storage, thermoelectrics, super high vision TV and more

Current Nikkei Business tech news and highlights from the August 2008 report on japanese research and innovation from the UK Embassy in Japan.

1. Furukawa Co Ltd plans to deploy a thermoelectric device for capturing 7% of the waste heat in car exhaust within 3 years.

Furukawa used the latest material to prototype a thermoelectric conversion module measuring 50 (W) x 50 (D) x 8mm (H). The company evaluated the module under conditions where its upper surface (higher temperature side) reached 720°C, while the lower surface (lower temperature side) is 50°C. With respect to the thermoelectric conversion performance, the results of the experiment indicated that the module has a thermoelectric conversion efficiency of 7% and an output of 33W (power density of 1.3W/cm2).

The ZT value of (Yb, Ca, Al, Ga, In)0.9(Co, Fe)4Sb12, which is an n-type material, increased from 0.7 to 1.3. From a practical standpoint, the material is expected to be applied to wider areas because the ZT values of both p- and n-types exceed 1 in a wide temperature range of 350-550°C.

2. Victor Company of Japan Ltd (JVC) showcased a front-projection projector with about 35 million pixels able to display Super High Vision. (8,192 × 4,320). Shown at CEATEC JAPAN 2008.

Super High vision is 16 times higher resolution than HD television and the industry hopes to transition to it from 2015-2025.

3. MHLW to establish research centre for pandemic flu

The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) will set up a research centre dedicated to develop vaccines and drugs to treat pandemic influenza. The new centre, to be established at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID), will promote research into commercialisation of a ‘cell culture method’ that Japan claims is needed to mass-produce pandemic vaccines for the entire population within six months from the outbreak of a pandemic. For fiscal 2009, MHLW has requested a total of 598 billion yen (GBP284 million) in measures against pre-pandemic influenza, up more than 9 times from this year’s actual budget. It also plans to increase the stockpiles of Tamiflu and Relenza. The current stockpiles can cover 23% of the public, but MHLW aims to increase the percentage to 45%, an equivalent to the US and Europe. (27 August 2008, Nikkei Sangyo Shimbun)

4. Sony ramping lithium ion battery by 80% by the end of 2010

Sony has decided to invest 40 billion-yen (GBP 200 million) in lithium-ion battery research in two domestic factories over the next three years. Sony seeks to facilitate manufacturing capabilities up to 80% by the end of 2010. For this aim, Sony will establish a new factory to produce electric power tools in Fukushima, as well as to increase assembly lines of electric cells in its Tochigi factory. Sony will also try to conduct mass production of batteries for mobiles in Singapore and China. (5 August 2008, Nikkei Shimbun)

5. Nippon Oil to mass-produce residential fuel cells

Nippon Oil will embark on the mass-production of fuel cells systems for households. The company will invest 10 billion yen (GBP 50 million) in introduction of production equipment in a factory owned by their business partner Sanyo. They plan to have an annual production capacity of 10,000 units in 2009 and 40,000 by 2015. Other companies such as Panasonic and Toshiba also plan the start of mass-production, which is expected to accelerate cost reduction and expansion of the market. (2 August 2008, Nikkei Shimbun)

6. Japanese Government will conduct a major research project on CCS (carbon capture and storage)

Japanese Government will fund a large-scale experimentation on CCS which will be undertaken by industry consortium Japan CCS, aiming to be put into practical use by 2011. CO2 from a coal-fired power plant with capacity of 250,000KW at Clean Coal Power Research Institute in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture, will be separated and collected for pipeline transportation to natural gas fields which can store more than 20 million tons of CO2, 70km offshore from the plant. The New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organisation (NEDO), a public funding agency for industries, will fund for 230 million yen (GBP1 million) this year. The estimated cost for the whole project would be around 500 billion yen (GBP2.5 billion), and the government will provide most of the financial support. (19 August 2008, Nikkei Shimbun)

7. MHI to design the world largest carbon capture system

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) announced that they received an offer form Norwegian Gassnova for the Front End Engineering and Design (FEED) of a large-scale facility to capture carbon from a power plant. The capacity of carbon capture will be the world largest 3,000t per day. The system is to be implemented at a gas turbine combined cycle power plant of 420,000kW. Gassnova has concluded the same contact with an American and a Norwegian separately. They plan the start of operation around the end of 2011. (21 August 2008, Nikkei Sangyo Shimbun)

8. Optimal control of lighting and air-conditioning at offices to halve power consumption

An industrial consortium will start a demonstration project to halve power consumption at an office in Tokyo in October. The group of 40 companies, including Hitachi, Mitsui and Matsushita, will co-operate with Doshisha University. They plan to develop a system in three years to control lighting and air-conditioning not uniformly but depending on individual workers’ needs, making the best use of information and communication technologies. (25 August 2008, Nikkei Shimbun)

9. Catalyst for low-cost production of bioethanol from non-foods

A research group has developed a low-cost technique that can produce bioethanol from non-food materials such as rice straw and waste wood. The technology uses a solid acid catalyst that converts raw materials into sugar in boiling water. The catalyst can be produced from cheap carbon-base materials. The developed process is 30% cheaper than conventional ones and bioethanol produced will be economically competitive against those derived from edible materials such as corn. The leader of the team is Professor Michikazu Hara of the Tokyo Institute of Technology. (25 August 2008, Nikkei Shimbun)

10. Mass-production of petrochemical products from carbon dioxide

Mitsui Chemical announced that they would build a facility in Osaka to demonstrate mass-production of methanol from carbon dioxide contained in flue gas from factories. Based on achievement in a joint project with the Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth (RITE), they plan to capture carbon dioxide from flue gas and concentrate it for reaction with hydrogen to synthesise methanol,
which is a raw material for synthetic resins and fibres. Currently, costs and required power are not predictable and the company will study commercial feasibility of the technology through the project. (26 August 2008, Nikkei Shimbun

11. Nippon Piston Ring developing next-generation piston ring to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions

Nippon Piston Ring, a major Japanese engine parts company, is developing next-generation position rings aimed at improving fuel efficiency and reducing gas emissions. It will begin commercializing these by 2015. To improve fuel efficiency, Nippon Piston Ring will reexamine employed materials such as rare metals and steel products to trim weight. The company will also conduct a drastic revision of its
surface finishing methods to save consumption of oil in the engine room. (15 August 2008, Nikkei Sangyo Shimbun)