Saturday, December 24, 2011

No. 32: Cosmo Oil participates in the offshore wing farming business (December 24, 2011)

CosmoOil plans to operate offshore wing farming plants, each of which is made up of more than 10 windmills, offshore of the Tohoku and other districts early 2020. Cosmo’s subsidiary EcoPower has already started the feasibility study offshore of Iwate Prefecture and offshore of Ibaraki Prefecture. The company plans to build plants in waters 15-20 meters deep about several kilometers away from the coast. It will conduct research on the wind on the waters and the geography of the seabed using a special ship starting in 2012. Each of the planned plants has an output ranging from 50,000 to 100,000 kW. The construction cost is estimated to exceed 10 billion yen per plant. EcoPower is the fourth largest operator of wind power generation, and it is currently operating about 130 land wind generation facilities.

Japan has lots of suitable areas for offshore wind farming because it has the sixth largest exclusive economic zone in the world. Some predict that offshore wind farming will have a generation capacity of about 13 million kW around 2030. That is, it will have two times higher capacity than the land wind generation, and the generation capacity of 13 million kW is equivalent to the generation capacity of 13 nuclear power plants. Japan will enforce the system that requires electric power companies to buy the whole amount of electricity generated by renewable energy at a fixed price in July 2012. J-Power and Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry are planning to do the substantiative experiment of offshore wind farming after 2012.     

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

No. 31: Ongoing development of the organic solar battery (December 21, 2011)

The development of organic solar batteries is accelerating. The technology of organic solar battery is to cover the walls and curved surfaces of a building and the roof, doors, and body of a vehicle. Although a large flat space is needed to install a solar battery, an organic solar battery is free from restrictions on installation space because it is a film. Mitsubishi Chemical takes the lead in the development of organic solar battery. It organized the generation layer using an organic material that emits electrons and fullerene that is the representative material of nanotechnology. The company already achieved the generation efficiency of 10% that is the highest rate achieved by an organic solar battery so far. It plans to launch film organic solar batteries and market them to automakers and building material producers in 2012.

Because the finished product is a film, it hardly weighs besides being flexible. It is less than one millimeter thick and almost free from any restrictions on installation space. Accordingly, it is realistic to build a vehicle covered entirely with the film organic solar battery. The company is conducting market research on the product that integrates a wall material and an organic solar battery based on amorphous silicon with a view to installing it on building walls and rolling it on the iron pole of the base station of mobile phones. While amorphous silicon-based products spread, crystalline silicone will spread to be used for the large-scale photovoltaic power plant called mega solar.

SumitomoChemical is also developing organic solar batteries using not fullerene but polymer materials. Thanks to the efforts of these companies, a new business domain of photovoltaic generation is being established.  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

No. 30: On small storage equipment (December 15, 2011)

Families equipped with a solar battery were able to use power in the daytime and give their neighbors an opportunity to take a bath in the disaster-stricken areas during the Fukushima disaster. As this story shows, generation equipment and storage equipment allow households to use the minimum amount of electricity necessary for daily life even though power supply from an electric power company is shut down. In this sense, household storage equipment and movable storage equipment will grow more important for the construction of a future energy system. In addition, operating such a distributed energy system as fuel battery that generates electricity from hydrogen requires storage equipment to allow for self-sustained operation of the system.

The current four major secondary chargeable batteries are lead battery, sodium sulfur battery, lithium-ion battery, and lithium air battery. The theoretical energy density is 165 kW, 786 kW, 583 kW, and 11,700 kW, respectively. Lithium-ion batteries are most popular at present, but excess voltage and low voltage greatly affect them. After the Fukushima disaster, household storage systems using a lithium-ion battery were commercialized by consumer electronics makers. They are mostly sold for 400,000-500,000 yen per kW. A household storage system is supposed to be put on the market for a little higher 100,000 yen per kW in 2012. Because a standard family with three members consumes about electricity of 3 kW per day, the price range a little higher than 100,000 yen is supposed to make a storage system spread wider.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

No. 29: On storage equipment (December 14, 2011)

Storage equipment is vital to level off the supply-demand gap of power between the daytime and nighttime, given the fact that renewable energy susceptible to weather and geographically-distributed power generation are expected to spread in the future. At present, sodium sulfur storage battery is commercialized. It employs metal sodium for anode, sulfur for cathode, and ceramics called beta alumina for electrolyte. It charges and discharges at 300-350 degrees centigrade, and it has a life of about 15 years. It has an energy density of about 100 watts per kilogram comparable to that of a lithium-ion battery. It enjoys high expectations as a stationery large-scale storage at present. Currently, only NGK Insulators produces and markets this kind of storage battery. It has an annual production capacity of 150,000 kW on an output basis.

The sodium nickel chloride storage battery that uses beta alumina for electrolyte like the sodium sulfur storage battery is also a high-capacity storage battery that operates at a high temperature. It is expected to be widely used in the future for delivery trucks and taxies that have to bear continuous load. In addition, another storage technology is available for surplus power from large plants that generates power using renewable energy, such as large-scale photovoltaic power plant called mega solar power plant. It electrolyzes water using surplus power, and produces and stores hydrogen. The stored hydrogen is converted to energy with the help of a fuel cell as necessary. However, lots of technological issues, such as increasing the efficiency of electrolysis of water and securing safety production and storage of hydrogen, are need to be settled to spread this technology.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

No. 28: A new small-sized solar battery that generates electricity with room illumination (December 12, 2011)

HitachiZosen will enter into the solar battery business with a newly-developed solar battery that can generate electricity with such room illumination as a fluorescent lamp. It sandwiches a layer of a special pigment that generates electricity by absorbing light between two films. It is a kind of solar battery called the dye-sensitised solar battery. The company developed this new solar battery in alliance with Peccel Technologies in Yokohama.

The new product piles up the self-developed pigment, electrode, and conductive membrane between two plastic film wafers. The pigment inside reacts to the light and generates electricity. It is as thin as about 0.5 mm and bendable. It is to be applied to the auxiliary power source for such small electronics devices as mobile phone and remote controller. The company will start to ship samples in April 2012 and plans to put it into practical use in 2016.   

Thursday, December 8, 2011

No. 27: Increasing production of ethylene carbonate for lithium-ion batteries (December 9, 2011)

MitsubishiChemical will quadruple the production of ethylene carbonate that is a material for lithium-ion battery. It currently produces 2,000 tons annually in Ibaraki Prefecture, but it will expand the production facilities with an investment of one billion yen to increase the production capacity to 8,000 annually toward 2013. Because eco cars including electric vehicles are spreading fast, the company plans to satisfy the growing demand by expanding the production capacity.  

Ethylene carbonate is a material for the electrolyte of a lithium-ion battery. The company has established the technology to produce highly-pure ethylene carbonate at low cost from ethylene glycol that is a raw material for polyester fiber. It plans to increase the competitive advantage through mass production. It will renovate the existing plant in Ibaraki Prefecture to increase the production capacity to 150% of the present level by next spring, and build a new plant with a production capacity of 5,000 tons annually by 2013. Mitsubishi’s ethylene carbonate is shipped to Toyama Chemical that is one of the leading producers of electrolyte for lithium-ion batteries. As always, competition in the rapidly growing business is subject to economies of scale backed up by capital strength.  

Monday, December 5, 2011

No. 26: Japanese solar thermal generation technology goes to Italy (December 6, 2011)

ChiyodaCorp. will construct a pilot plant for the solar thermal generation project that uses high-temperature molten salt for heat conducting fluid in alliance with Archimede Solar Energy (ASE) of Italy. The pilot plant will be constructed inside Archmiede’s premises northeast of Rome toward August 2012. The output is scheduled to be about 200 kW. In Italy, a demonstration plant is operating in Sicilia under the initiative of an Italian electric power company. Because it is colder in Rome than in Sicilia, Chiyoda wishes to appeal its technology to collect heat required for generation if sunlight is available even in a severe environment, and test the heat collection system and the functionality of the plant. 

Unlike the conventional system that uses synthetic oil for heat medium, the new plant can be operated by increasing the temperature of the heat medium to about 150 degrees centigrade, making it possible to increase generation efficiency, simplify equipment, and reduce investment. Italy plans to construct multiple solar thermal generation plants of the high-temperature molten salt type with an output of more than 10 kW. Chiyoda concluded an agreement with ASE that has the manufacturing technology of heat collection pipes necessary to use high-temperature molten salt for heat medium in June 2011.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

No. 25: Hitachi Zosen participates in the facility construction of offshore wind farming (December 5, 2011)

HitachiZosen will enter the offshore wind farming business next year. The company developed its own wind generation plant that costs 30% less than the existing wind generation plants by employing the self-developed floating body. It will conduct the substantiate experiment starting 2014 and commercialize the generation plant toward 2016. The price of a plant is expected to be 2-3 billion yen.

Hitachi’s plant is the floating body type that has fixed windmills on it. This type is in the stage of substantiative experiment worldwide, and IHI is also developing this type of wind generation plant. Utilizing its own offshore engineering technology, Hitachi will develop an original floating body that is wider horizontally as compared with products from competitors. By increasing the stability of the windmills, the technology can simplify the construction to moor the floating body. Japan has a wide exclusive economic zone because it is surrounded by the sea, and lots of areas are supposed to be available for offshore wind farming. It is estimated that offshore wind farming will have an output of 13 million kW in 2030, about two times more output estimated for land wind generation.  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

No. 24: On new type fuel cells (2/2) (December 2, 2011)

The solid oxide type has several advantages over the solid high molecule type. One of them is that the treatment process of fuel can be simplified. The latter accepts only highly pure hydrogen as fuel. Ene Farm needs very sophisticated treatment to collect highly pure hydrogen from city gas and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), resulting in energy loss and a high-cost structure of the system. In the case of the solid oxide type, city gas and LPG can be introduced directly into the module of a fuel cell and modified inside the system. Accordingly, the system can be simplified.

Another advantage is an increase of generation efficiency. Because the loss generated in the process of fuel can be reduced, the solid oxide type has 5% higher generation efficiency than solid high molecule type (41% vs. 36%). And technological progress may be able to improve the generation efficiency further. At the same time, the solid oxide type accepts a smaller hot-water tank because the storage temperature can be set higher. The system of the solid oxide type could be two thirds of the system of the high molecule type. This makes it possible to reduce the installation cost and install the system in the place where it cannot be installed at present. Actually, the industry strongly expects the solid oxide type to be widespread after it is commercialized.