Archive for Japan
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Lot’s of good stories here:
The Indian Prime Minister was forced to cancel his planned visit to Japan this month after the Japanese government dissolved the lower house of parliament and announced early elections. An important trade pact in respect of rare earth materials was proposed to be signed during the visit. Fortunately, the cancellation of the Indian Prime Minister’s visit has not come in the way of the realisation of this pact. On Nov. 16, a trade pact allowing the import of 4,100 tons of rare earth elements material (amounts to roughly 10 to 15 percent of Japan’s peak annual demand) from India has been signed by the two countries. India is known to be the second largest producer of REEs. According to one estimate made in 2010, China produced 1.3 lakh tons of REEs while India’s output was 2,700 tons. India, in spite of being a small player in comparison with China, has been in the business of REEs since the 1950s when Indian Rare Earths Ltd. was established. The recent agreement between Japan and India on REEs could also be viewed as a continuation of their existing relationship in the field of REEs. Japan has already made investments in this regard in India. The most interesting aspect of India and Japan coming together is that they are also proposing to engage with other states where REEs are available for excavation. India and Japan want to develop a joint venture in third countries, particularly in underdeveloped states, such as Afghanistan and Kazakhstan.
(R&D News) Providing protection against impacts from bullets and other high-speed projectiles is more than just a matter of brute strength. While traditional shields have been made of bulky materials such as steel, newer body armor made of lightweight material such as Kevlar has shown that thickness and weight are not necessary for absorbing the energy of impacts. Now, a new study by researchers at MIT and Rice University has shown that even lighter materials may be capable of doing the job just as effectively. The key is to use composites made of two or more materials whose stiffness and flexibility are structured in very specific ways-such as in alternating layers just a few nanometers thick. The research team produced miniature high-speed projectiles and measured the effects they had on the impact-absorbing material. The team developed a self-assembling polymer with a layer-cake structure: rubbery layers, which provide resilience, alternating with glassy layers, which provide strength. They then developed a method for shooting glass beads at the material at high speed by using a laser pulse to rapidly evaporate a layer of material just below its surface. Though the beads were tiny-just millionths of a meter in diameter-they were still hundreds of times larger than the layers of the polymer they impacted: big enough to simulate impacts by larger objects, such as bullets, but small enough so the effects of the impacts could be studied in detail using an electron microscope.
Although widespread rebuilding in the hard-hit New York metro region from Super Storm Sandy has not yet begun, New Jersey Institute of Technology Assistant Professor Mohamed Mahgoub says when the hammers start swinging, it’s time to look at autoclaved aerated concrete. The material, best known as AAC, has been heralded as the building material of the new millennium. It’s a lightweight, easily-crafted manufactured stone, strong enough to withstand earthquakes and hurricanes when reinforced with steel. The material is used widely worldwide, says Mahgoub. Mahgoub is also the coordinator of the NJIT Concrete Industry Management program, which is only one of a select few programs of its kind across the United States. This semester CIM students are testing and analyzing AAC. “It is an environmentally-friendly solution for future building problems and it is also an extremely efficient, specialty fabrication material,” he says. “Cuts can easily be factory controlled. AAC is available throughout the U.S. and Canada. There is currently one U.S. manufacturer in Florida with plans to open another manufacturing operation in New Jersey.” AAC is workable and lightweight like wood. It can provide outstanding thermal insulation, is resistant to fire, termites and decay. A concrete product, AAC consists of finely ground sand, cement, quick lime, gypsum, aluminum and water. “Most sand is too coarse for the manufacturing of AAC,” notes Mahgoub.
(BBC) A concrete that contains limestone-producing bacteria, which are activated by corrosive rainwater working its way into the structure, could potentially increase the service life of the concrete—with considerable cost savings as a result. The work is taking place at Delft Technical University, Netherlands. It is the brainchild of microbiologist Henk Jonkers and concrete technologist Eric Schlangen. If all goes well, Jonkers says they could start the process of commercializing the system in 2-3 years. Bacterial spores and the nutrients they will need to feed on are added as granules into the concrete mix. But water is the missing ingredient required for the microbes to grow. So the spores remain dormant until rainwater works its way into the cracks and activates them. The harmless bacteria, belonging to the Bacillus genus, then feed on the nutrients to produce limestone. The bacterial food incorporated into the healing agent is calcium lactate—a component of milk. The microbes used in the granules are able to tolerate the highly alkaline environment of the concrete. ”In the lab we have been able to show healing of cracks with a width of 0.5 mm, 2-3 times higher than the norms state,” Jonkers explained. ”Now we are upscaling. We have to produce the self-healing agent in huge quantities and we are starting to do outdoor tests, looking at different constructions, different types of concrete to see if this concept really works in practice.” The main challenge is to ensure the healing agent is robust enough to survive the mixing process. But, in order to do so, says Jonkers, “we have to apply a coating to the particles, which is very expensive”. The team is currently trying to reduce the cost this adds to the process. But he expects an improved system to be ready in about six months. The outdoor tests should begin after this; the team is already talking to several construction firms that could provide help. The concrete will then have to be monitored for a minimum of two years to see how it behaves in this real-world setting.
Researchers have figured out how to recreate the bright, beautiful colors of butterfly wings, as well as their ability to strongly repel water. The colors of a butterfly’s wings are the result of an unusual trait-the way they reflect light is fundamentally different from how color works most of the time. A team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania has found a way to generate this kind of “structural color.” Shu Yang, associate professor in the department of materials science and engineering, led the research. She and colleagues report their findings in the journal Advanced Functional Materials. The two qualities-structural color and superhydrophobicity-are related by structures. Structural color is the result of periodic patterns, while superhydrophobicity is the result of surface roughness. While trying to combine these traits, engineers have to go through complicated, multi-step processes, first to create color-providing 3D structures out of a polymer, followed by additional steps to make them rough in the nanoscale.
(GigaOm) A Chicago startup is ready to commercialize an electric motor that presents an alternative to the conventional motors that require the use of rare earth materials. HEVT hopes to raise money to scale up production. Political battles over rare earth materials - which are crucial for many energy components, like lighting, batteries and motors - have spawned efforts to create technologies free of these materials. A startup called HEVT (or Hybrid Electric Vehicle Technologies), which recently won the national Cleantech competition, has developed a rare earth-free electrical motor and is looking to deliver its technology to market first in electric bicycles. The Chicago-based company has engineered a high-performance “switched reluctance motor” and says it has solved the noise and vibration problem that has crippled efforts in the past to commercialize it, according to Heidi Lubin, CEO of HEVT. The motor presents an alternative to conventional induction and magnet motors, which require rare earth elements that can be hard to secure. HEVT is part of a team, led by the University of Texas at Dallas, to design a switch reluctance motor with nearly $3 million from the ARPA-E program. Rare earth mining and processing also can be environmentally unfriendly. HEVT was founded in 2005 within the Illinois Institute of Technology to target electric hybrids and plug-in electric cars and trucks. But that market is hard to crack. The pace of electric car adoption hasn’t taken off as quickly as some proponents would’ve liked to see, and some battery makers in particular have had trouble meeting their sales projections. So HEVT wants to tackle the more established electric bicycle market first.
For work toward a safer approach to treating cancer, electrical engineering PhD student Inanc Ortac from the University of California, San Diego has won first prize in the graduate student category at the 2012 Collegiate Inventors Competition. Ortac’s winning entry offers a new approach for delivering cancer drugs just to the areas where the drugs are needed. This kind of targeted drug delivery minimizes collateral damage to non-cancerous cells. “With our nano-wiffle-ball technology, we expect that the lethal side effects to chemotherapy can be greatly reduced, the efficacy of the therapy can be increased, and the quality of life of patients can be improved,” said Ortac. The proposed nano-wiffle-ball approach for the treatment of solid tumors and metastatic cancers would involve multiple steps. First, the nano-wiffle-balls, which are nano-scale capsules made of silica, are filled with foreign enzymes. The nano-wiffle-balls encapsulate the enzymes and effectively hide them from the body’s immune system. Trillions of nano-wiffle balls loaded with foreign enzymes would then travel through the blood stream and accumulate at the cancer sites. Next, a doctor would administer a non-toxic, inactive drug precursor (prodrug) that enters these nanocapsules reacts with the enzyme cargo. These reactions activate the prodrug, turning it into an active cancer-fighting drug. Preclinical trials for a number of cancer types including colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and metastatic breast cancer are under way and clinical studies will follow, according to Ortac.
Coating a bone graft with an inorganic compound found in bones and teeth may significantly increase the likelihood of a successful implant, new research from Penn State shows. Natural bone grafts need to be sterilized and processed with chemicals and radiation before implantation into the body to make sure disease isn’t transmitted by the graft. Human bones have a rough surface. However, once a graft is sterilized the surface changes and doesn’t work as well at stimulating bone formation in the body. Researchers developed a way to create a rough surface on bone grafts that is similar in texture to the surface of an untreated bone that promotes healing. By coating a bone with hydroxyapatite using physical vapor deposition, they could closely mimic the rough surface of an untreated bone. To find the optimum thickness of hydroxyapatite, the group sterilized the graft samples. After sterilization, physical vapor deposition layered different amounts of hydroxyapatite on the grafts.
When Japan’s government last week suddenly announced that it would phase out its nuclear power plants by 2040, it probably thought it would be scoring some popularity points with its population where public opinion has been strong in opposing the continued use of nuclear power since the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. But, the policy announcement clearly caught a lot of people—inside and outside the country—by surprise. Perhaps the two groups most caught off guard were Japan’s industrial sector and the communities where the nuclear power plants are located.
Thus, it isn’t totally surprising that government officials are attempting to “walk back” the policy and recast the phase-out as a general “target” rather than a specific goal.
Reuters reports, “Since the plan was announced on Friday, Japan’s powerful industry lobbies have urged the government rethink the nuclear-free commitment, arguing it could damage the economy and would mean spending more on pricey fuel imports.” The news agency goes on to say that although the Japanese Cabinet approved a new policy that would move the country to less reliance on nuclear power, a specific date for closing all reactors was omitted.
As with most reactors, the ones in Japan were designed for a 40-year lifespan. The approved policy calls for operators to adhere to that lifespan, however the same policy also permits the designed life to be exceeded if regulators certify a reactor’s safety.
There still will be a ban on new reactors, but it is not clear what the fate will be of the two reactors currently under construction
The government is also hoping that a newly launched, more credible regulatory agency will ease public concerns.
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(Futurity) Five years after the deadly I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, advances in sensors are making warning systems more affordable and practical. A new generation of these devices is needed to adequately monitor the nearly 150,000 US highway bridges, about one-in-four listed by the federal government as either “structurally deficient” or “obsolete,” say researchers at the University of Maryland. “We no longer need to roll the dice when it comes to the structural integrity of the nation’s highway bridges,” says engineer Mehdi Kalantari. “Technical advances in wireless sensors make real-time monitoring both affordable and practical.” Kalantari leads one of two engineering teams developing a system of tiny, long-lasting, energy-efficient, low-maintenance wireless sensors, along with software that analyzes real-time data collected. Another University of Maryland engineering team is working on a total “smart bridge” package with multiple technology innovations. While the system is not yet available commercially, key elements are being tested by Maryland State Highway officials, the Maryland Transportation Authority, and the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
(GizMag) Chimera Energy Corporation of Houston, Texas, has announced that they are licensing a new method for extracting oil and gas from shale fields that doesn’t contaminate ground water resources because it uses exothermic reactions instead of water to fracture shale. Some fracking engineers prefer non-hydraulic methods. One of these, used recently in New York State, swaps the water for gelled propane. The idea being that the propane reverts to a gas at the end of the process and can be pumped out, leaving any additives behind in the well, much like boiling seawater and leaving behind the salt. Chimera Energy uses what is called “dry fracturing” or “exothermic extraction.” First developed in China, this involves using hot gases rather than liquid to fracture the shale. In dry fracturing, metal oxides, ultraexpansive evaporants and pumice are pumped into the well. The metal oxides react with one another to form an exothermic reaction. Extremely hot gases are generated that expand and crack the shale. Meanwhile, the pumice shoots in and reinforces the fractures, keeping them from closing and allowing the gas or oil to flow. Chimera Energy claims that not only is the technique environmentally safe, but that it is compatible with any existing well in the world.
Scientists are reporting development of a new transparent solar cell, an advance toward giving windows in homes and other buildings the ability to generate electricity while still allowing people to see outside. Their report appears in the journal ACS Nano. Yang Yang, Rui Zhu, Paul S. Weiss and colleagues explain that there has been intense world-wide interest in so-called polymer solar cells, which are made from plastic-like materials. They describe a new kind of PSC that produces energy by absorbing mainly infrared light, not visible light, making the cells 66 percent transparent to the human eye. They made the device from a photoactive plastic that converts infrared light into an electrical current. Another breakthrough is the transparent conductor made of a mixture of silver nanowire and titanium dioxide nanoparticles, which was able to replace the opaque metal electrode used in the past. This composite electrode also allowed the solar cell to be fabricated economically by solution processing. The authors suggest the panels could be used in smart windows or portable electronics.
(Green Car Congress) The Nikkei reports that joint ventures being planned by Japan-based TDK Corp. and Hitachi Metals Ltd. to make powerful magnets in China have foundered due to Japanese regulations that will complicate the necessary exports and technology transfers. In essence, the projects have been caught in the trade diplomacy crossfire over Chinese restrictions on exports of rare-earth metals, which are vital for making powerful magnets. The longer the dispute rages, the greater the chance of trouble for production of hybrid cars and other items containing these magnets.
A Yale-led team of mineral physicists has for the first time confirmed through high-pressure experiments the structure of cold-compressed graphite, a form of carbon that is comparable in hardness to its cousin, diamond, but only requires pressure to synthesize. The researchers believe their findings could open the way for a super hard material that can withstand great force and can be used - as diamond-based materials are now - for many electronic and industrial applications. Under normal conditions, pure carbon exhibits vastly different physical properties depending on its structure. For example, graphite is soft, but diamond is one of the hardest materials known. Graphite conducts electricity, but diamond is an insulator. In the middle is the form of carbon confirmed by the Yale-led team, dubbed M-carbon and predicted by theoretical methods initially in 2006. M-carbon is made when graphite is compressed to pressures approximately 200,000 times room pressure, at room temperature. Researchers say this intermediate structure has much lower symmetry than diamond, but is as hard. In fact, “Our study shows that M-carbon is extremely incompressible and hard, rivaling the extreme properties of diamond so much that it damages diamond,” says principal investigator Kanani K.M. Lee, assistant professor of geology and geophysics at Yale.
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Honeywell has completed the delivery of advanced ballistic materials that will be used in the development of next-generation combat helmets for the Army. Honeywell has delivered 218 helmets containing advanced Spectra Shield and Gold Shield ballistic materials that the Army will evaluate to help set new helmet performance requirements. The helmets are designed to be 16 to 24 percent lighter than the helmets US soldiers currently wear, and provide increased ballistic and non-ballistic performance against handgun rounds and fragments from improvised explosive devices. Spectra Shield is manufactured using Honeywell’s proprietary shield technology, which bonds parallel strands of Spectra fiber with an advanced resin system. Spectra fiber is made from ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene using a patented gel-spinning process. The fiber exhibits high resistance to chemicals, water and ultraviolet light, and has excellent vibration damping, flex fatigue and internal fiber-friction characteristics. The fiber also has as much as 60 percent greater specific strength than aramid fiber.
DOE announced $500,000 is available this year to test the technical readiness of technologies that can harness energy from waves to supply clean, renewable power to highly-populated coastal regions. The funding will support one project to deploy and test a wave energy conversion device for one year at the Navy’s Wave Energy Test Site in Kaneohe Bay, on the island of Oahu. The Energy Department estimates that there are over 1,170 terawatt hours per year of electric generation available from wave energy off US coasts, although not all of this resource potential can realistically be developed. For comparison, the US uses 4,000 terawatt hours of electricity each year. The Navy has supported wave energy conversion research with the expectation that this technology can be used to assist DOD in reaching its agency goal of producing or procuring 25 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025.
A pioneering study at the University of Buffalo to gauge the toxicity of quantum dots in primates has found the tiny crystals to be safe over a one-year period, a hopeful outcome for doctors and scientists seeking new ways to battle diseases like cancer through nanomedicine. The research, which appeared on online, is likely the first to test the safety of quantum dots in primates. In the study, scientists found that four rhesus monkeys injected with cadmium-selenide quantum dots remained in normal health over 90 days. Blood and biochemical markers stayed in typical ranges, and major organs developed no abnormalities. The animals didn’t lose weight. Two monkeys observed for an additional year also showed no signs of illness. The authors caution, however, that more research is needed to determine the nanocrystals’ long-term effects in primates; most of the potentially toxic cadmium from the quantum dots stayed in the liver, spleen and kidneys of the animals studied over the 90-day period. The cadmium build-up, in particular, is a serious concern that warrants further investigation, says Ken-Tye Yong, a Nanyang Technological University assistant professor.
Something strange is taking shape at the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center this summer. Investigate the world of materials science in the Exploreum’s new special exhibition, “Strange Matter,” which opens May 26, and runs through Sept. 3 in downtown Mobile. “Strange Matter,” presented by the Materials Research Society,” lets visitors catch a glimpse of where the future of materials research might take us. Hands-on technologies and interactive experiences reveal the intriguing and remarkable properties and applications of modern materials that appear in such high-tech fields as cardiac surgery and the space program, along with items used in everyday life, according to an Exploreum news release.
The DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory and Northwestern University have appointed Pete Beckman, director, Exascale Technology and Computing Institute at Argonne, and Peter W. Voorhees, Frank C. Engelhart Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern, as codirectors of the Northwestern-Argonne Institute for Science and Engineering. The institute, established last year, brings together top scientists and engineers-Northwestern faculty and students and Argonne researchers to collaboratively attack key problems in energy, nanoscience and advanced scientific computing. Last week, Argonne Director Eric D. Isaacs announced plans to expand the institute’s collaborative efforts to include significant emphasis on cutting-edge materials research in support of President Barack Obama’s Materials Genome Initiative. One aim of the collaborations is to strengthen Chicago’s regional “innovation ecosystem” by linking experts in every aspect of advanced materials science and providing them with direct access to the world’s most advanced tools for materials discovery and characterization.
(Technology Review) This month, Japan shut down the last of its 54 nuclear reactors. When and if any of those reactors are to be restarted is uncertain. One thing is for sure, though: as long as it is without nuclear power, Japan will be almost completely dependent on imported fossil fuels. Japan has the third most nuclear generating capacity in the world, behind the US and France. Just before the devastating earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, nuclear power was the source of just under 30 percent of the country’s electricity. Hydropower and other renewable power sources accounted for less than 10 percent. The rest came from fossil fuels-the vast majority of which came from foreign nations, since Japan has few fossil-fuel resources of its own.
Kansas State University researchers have come closer to solving an old challenge of producing graphene quantum dots of controlled shape and size at large densities, which could revolutionize electronics and optoelectronics. Vikas Berry, William H. Honstead professor of chemical engineering, has developed a novel process that uses a diamond knife to cleave graphite into graphite nanoblocks, which are precursors for graphene quantum dots. These nanoblocks are then exfoliated to produce ultrasmall sheets of carbon atoms of controlled shape and size. By controlling the size and shape, the researchers can control graphene’s properties over a wide range for varied applications, such as solar cells, electronics, optical dyes, biomarkers, composites and particulate systems.
Without indigenous supplies, Japan’s government has been making aggressive moves to establish rare earth recycling programs, and the country’s automotive manufacturers were expected to be among the leaders. Sure enough, one manufacturer has just announced it is nearly ready to launch a large-scale effort to recycle rare earths. What’s surprising, to me, is that announcement is coming from Honda and not behemoth competitor, Toyota.
Last week, the Honda revealed it has been setting up what it claims is the first mass-production process to recapture rare earth metals from used Honda parts and will have the plant in operation by the end of April. This is a actually a joint effort with Honda working with Japan Metals & Chemicals Co.
In particular, Honda seems to be aiming first at recovering rare earth in used nickel-metal hydride batteries and claims it will harvest the rare earths from batteries from both Japan and other markets. Honda had already been recycling the nickel content. Honda says it plans in the future to use the rare earth extraction process on a variety of used parts.
Honda is the second-leading manufacturer of passenger cars in Japan, but Toyota produces three-times that number. Honda has sold around 800,000 HEVs, but again, it is dwarfed by Toyota, which has sold 3.5 million (including 2.5 million Prius sedans). Toyota also uses a lithium-ion battery in some of its HEV and plug-in HEV vehicles.
Honda says, “the successful stabilization of the extraction process at the plant of Japan Metals & Chemicals Co., Ltd. made possible the extraction of rare earth metals in a mass-production process with purity as high as that of newly mined and refined metals.” Honda claims it can recover 80% of rare earth metals contained in the used NiMH batteries.
Japan is the world’s biggest importer of rare earths, and in February the government announced that it initially would be offering $65 million in subsidies for projects that would allow the nation to reduce rare earth imports, including recycling efforts, followed by another $45 million later in the year. The government is also considering other steps to require central and local government officials to support rare earth recycling. A story in The Japan Times Online reports that the nation’s Environment Ministry says, “the annual amount of used electronic products disposed of in Japan stands at 650,000 tons, from which 280,000 tons of rare earth and other metal resources worth ¥84.4 billion [$1.03 billion] could potentially be recycled.”
Some are giving Honda praise for setting the standard for other manufacturers, and it is somewhat surprising to see Honda make this type of announcement before Toyota. On the other hand, Honda’s smaller size gives it less bargaining power with rare earth importers and, perhaps, it was feeling more pressure to act quickly.
In late 2010, Hitachi also announced a rare earth recycling program, aimed at recovering materials from compressors and computer hard drives, and said at that time that it hoped its system would be functioning by 2013.