Friday, October 28, 2011

No. 12: Japan’s first substantiative experiment of ocean thermal energy conversion (October 29, 2011)

Kobe Steel and Saga University will start Japan’s first substantiative experiment of ocean thermal energy conversion that generates electricity using the temperature difference of seawater. They plan to develop the next-generation technology that generates electricity at about 20 yen per kW on a 10,000 kW scale. They will build demonstration equipment and conduct the experiment for one year starting in 2013.

The ocean thermal energy conversion generates low-test ammonia vapor by dint of warm seawater near the ocean surface and runs a turbine for power generation. Surplus vapor is cooled down by cool seawater in the deeper layer for recycling. Saga University will promote the efficiency of the heat exchanger using titan developed by Kobe Steel to reduce the cost of the equipment. Using the new heat exchanger, the research team will build substantiative equipment with a capacity of about 10 kW and conduct the substantiative experiment for one year to verity the generation cost. The experiment site will be an island in Okinawa Prefecture. Starting this year, it is a five year project led by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization.    

Monday, October 24, 2011

No. 11: Increase the generation amount of biogas by mixing food scraps and sewage sludge (October 24, 2011)

A sewage treatment plant in Osaka will start the experiment to increase the amount of biogas by treating sewage sludge and food scraps together coming November for an investment of about 28 million yen. This plant currently generates electricity using biogas produced by sewage sludge for operation, and plants to add food scraps to the sewage sludge for increased efficiency of biogas generation and decreased amount of food scraps. Osaka plans to put the technology into practical application by 2020. The method to utilize food scraps for biogas generation can be found in small local cities, but Osaka may be the first major city to work seriously on this method in Japan.  

The plant produces about 8,000 cubic meters biogas daily from 400 tons of sewage sludge. Because organic substances in food scraps are not resolved as much as in sewage sludge, Osaka presumes that 120-130 cubic meters biogas can be generated from 1 ton of food scraps. Hence, it thinks that the generation efficiency will increase by treating them together. In the experiment, a research team will collect food scraps from hotels and department stores, liquefied them, and put them into the digester chamber. The will verify the optimal method for the operation because it is necessary to eliminate chopsticks and other products unsuitable for the process beforehand. Osaka treats about 1,200,000 tons of trash annually, about 30% of which are food scraps. Osaka is promoting the concept “Building a recycling-oriented community of resources and energy,” and the investment on the experiment is part of this approach.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

No. 10: A total of 93 items are subject to deregulation in the draft to promote renewable energy (October 20, 2011)

The energy and environment subcommittee of the Japanese government issued a draft for the reform of regulations and systems. The draft covers 93 items to promote renewable energy. They include mitigation of the existing regulations on geothermal and wind generation inside national parks and abandoned farmlands. Regulations on the location of hydraulic power generation will be mitigated, and safety regulations stipulated by the Electric Enterprise Law will be modified to facilitate the introduction of small-scale generation and new technology. Actually, the draft consists of three themes: (1) Reform of the power system, (2) Faster introduction of renewable energy, and (3) Promotion of energy saving.

To be specific, regulations on national parks and abandoned farmlands will be modified greatly to simplify the procedures of the feasibility research and excavation necessary for the construction of a power plant, and special measures law of the Agricultural Land Act and the Forest Law will be formulated. To foster small-scale hydraulic power generation, the government will modify the Electric Enterprise Law and the River Law besides mitigating the regulations on water right. At the same time, the subcommittee will publish guidelines to clarify the procedures for negotiations and adjustments with people and organizations involved in the fishery industry to introduce ocean wind generation that can rarely be found in Japan at present. The Japanese government plans to enforce the deregulation within the year to minimize the increase of electricity cost and prevent power shortage in the peak time through promoting power using renewable energy.   

Monday, October 17, 2011

No. 9: Substantiative experiments of an air-conditioning system using earth thermal (October 17, 2011)

Japan Ground Water Development in Yamagata Prefecture will start substantiative experiments of an air-conditioning system that uses earth thermal inside its headquarters coming November. They are designed to establish a model for effective operation of the system and study the influence of the system over the underground environment. This is a three year project to be conducted in alliance with the graduate school of Kyushu University and NationalInstitute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). The investment for the initial year is 100 million yen.

The company introduced an air-conditioning system that combined ground water and a heat pump as the energy source in 1983. The system pumps up ground water and returns the water to the ground through thermal exchange. In the experiments, the research team will establish an air-conditioning system combined with the latest heat pump and study the effective operation of the system to increase the presence in the market. An 840-square-meter floor will be used for the experiments, and operation data will be collected to start the operation toward late November. The research team is scheduled to draw a nationwide promotional map for the effective utilization of the earth thermal air-conditioning system.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

No. 8: An increasing number of companies get involved in geothermal generation (October 6, 2011)

No projects were planned for geothermal generation since the last project ended in 1999. It is estimated that Japan has a potential capacity of more than 20 million kW in geothermal generation that is equivalent to the total capacity of 20 nuclear power plants, but only 0.5 million kW is being utilized because of the strict regulations governing national parks and the difficulty to sell generated electricity. However, the situation is changing very rapidly. The buyback system of all electricity generated by renewable energy will be enacted next July.

Taking the opportunities of the deregulation, an increasing number of companies plan to start the geothermal generation business. Marubeni will build geothermal plants in the northern part of Japan with a view to selling all generated electricity. JFE Engineering, IdemitsuKosan, and INPEX are planning to enter into the business. Mitsubishi Materials has already started to excavate wells for geothermal generation in alliance with Tohoku Electric Power.

Unlike photovoltaic generation and wind generation, geothermal generation is not affected by weather conditions. In addition, the cost of geothermal generation is 20 yen per kW, while that of photovoltaic generation is as much as 40 yen per kW. At the same time, the Ministry of Environment is scheduled to deregulate the development of geothermal generation on the condition that a special construction method is used. Japan has the world’s third largest resources of geothermal generation following Indonesia and the U.S. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry supports the spread of geothermal generation. It has asked the Diet to appropriate more than 10 billion yen for the research on geological structure and the amount of geothermal energy resources.    

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

No. 7: Wind generation grows popular in the northernmost part of the Honshu Island (October 5, 2011)

Aomori Prefecture is the northernmost prefecture in the Honshu Island. This prefecture actively takes the initiative in introducing measures to promote renewable energy including wind generation. It has 200 windmills that have a combined generation capacity of about 300,000 kW. The governor of Aomori Prefecture shows the determination to be the leading prefecture in introducing renewable energy.

Leading wind generation companies, such as EurusEnergy and Eco Power, set up bases in this prefecture. Japan Wind Development is also active in this region, and it graded up its base to the headquarters in the Tohoku region. Moves to utilize sunlight are growing in the area facing the Pacific Ocean because it is not snowy. Tohoku Electric Power is constructing a large-scale photovoltaic generation plant inside its premises. A small local organization is operating wind generation and small hydraulic power generation using springwater in the Seikan tunnel. The prefecture is actively developing various kinds of generation using renewable energy. They include generation using water of storage reservoir for agriculture, ocean current power generation, earth thermal generation, and generation using woody biomass.

The efforts to develop technology for smart utilization of power and heat are also in progress. The wind generation plant run by Japan Wind Development has a large storage battery inside the premises to stabilize the output. The company plans to transmit electricity to a building before Tokyo Station about 600 kg away from Aomori Prefecture. Leading companies including Toyota Motor and Hitachi are conducting substantiative experiments of smart grids. Hirosaki University established North Japan Research Institutefor Sustainable Energy, and it is addressing generation using drifting snow.

Besides developing renewable energy, the prefecture is also working on the development of safety technology of nuclear power generation. In fact, International Fusion Energy Research Center affiliated with Japan Atomic Energy Agency has a base in this prefecture.   

No. 6: A new yeast for higher efficiency and lower cost biofuel made of a nonfood plant (October 4, 2011)

Toyota Motor announced that it would put biofuel made of a nonfood plant into practical application toward 2020. The biofuel the company has been developing is cellulosic ethanol made of Pennisetum purpureum Schumach that is a nonfood plant growing in the tropical zone. The yeast that it developed using the recombinant DNA technology made it possible to apply 87% of the raw sugar to ethanol, 3% higher than the rate achieved by the current technology. It wishes to make cellulosic ethanol as low as gasoline by simplifying the production process of biofuel. It plans licensing and alliance with other companies because a huge investment of several ten billion yen will be required to build a plant for mass production.

Because biofuel made of food plants is affected by the price fluctuations of food plants like sugarcane and corn, Toyota plans to grow Pennisetum purpureum Schumach by itself and develop an integrated technology necessary for all the stages from production of raw materials to purification. Leaves Pennisetum purpureum Schumach will be used for feed for cows and stems for the raw material of biofuel and industrial materials. It is also planning to build a hybrid vehicle that uses biofuel.