August 18, 2008

Japan's large scale uranium from seawater and superconducting wire plans

Japan considering Using gene engineered seaweed to get million of tons of Uranium
The Mitsubishi Research Institute (MRI) has recently recommended Japan mass-culture seaweed to collect natural resources such as bio-ethanol and uranium. In the “Apollo and Poseidon Initiative 2025,” MRI suggests that Japan cultures gulfweed, which can grow more than 2 metres high a year in the sea. The plants could also absorb carbon dioxide and purify the seawater, and can be used as non-food alternative energy sources for bio-ethanol. In April, MRI plans to inaugurate a consortium comprising public research institutes and manufacturers to move the plan forward. Using advanced molecular and gene-engineering technologies, MRI estimates that Japan would be capable of producing 65 million metric tons of gulfweed a year, and recovering a resource of 195 million tons of uranium. The annual rate of recovery is 40% of Japan’s total consumption. (19 February 2008, Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun)

The last part of the quoted paragraph is somewhat confusing as noted in the comments. Using polymers, the total amount of uranium recovered from three collection boxes containing 350 kg of fabric was >1 kg of yellowcake after 240 days of submersion in the ocean. So 65 million tons of seaweed might get 195,000 tons/year of uranium based on a comparable efficiency.

Abstract of the polymer recovery work.

The secondary alternative is that 195 million tons of uranium is recoverable eventually based on the Japanese plans of accessing the 4.6 billion tons in the Oceans. They are probably planning to tap an ocean current off of Japan. Japan uses 7589 tons of Uranium per year now. 40% of Japan's consumption would be about 3000 tons of Uranium per year. So there is the reserve amount recoverable and the annual production based on the planned scale of the initial operation.

Note: Current conventional uranium reserves are 5.5 million tons. There is another 10 million tons expected to be developed in the same geological formations. There is 22 million tons of Uranium in phosphate reserves. So 195 million tons would be a lot, but it would only be part of the 4.6 billion tons in the oceans. 65,000 tons per year of uranium are used worldwide now.

This is related to the article on this site that uranium from seawater and breeder reactors would enable Uranium to power nuclear reactors for tens of thousands or billions of years depending upon the rate of usage.

Demonstration of superconducting cables at a substation in 2010
Sumitomo Electric Industries and Tokyo Electric Power will test superconducting cables connecting to the power system at a substation for a year in autumn 2010. They will demonstrate high-temperature superconducting cables that are cooled by liquefied nitrogen at 196°C below zero. This technology costs less than low-temperature cables that need coolant of minus 269°C. It is expected that superconducting cables will be put into practical use around 2020 and cut power transmission costs by 40% in the future. (14 February 2008, Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun)

Sumitomo Electric Industries can make 15 meters per hour of superconducting wire which is above the 10 meter per hour needed for practical commercial applications.

To mass-produce carbon fibre components for automotive
Japanese carbon fibre producers will start the mass-production of automotive components as early as 2010. Carbon fibre resin are ten-times stronger and four-times lighter (but more expensive) than steel products. These companies, including Toray Teijin and Mitsubishi Chemical, expect to make up the cost gap with mass-production and automotive companies’ growing needs to response to tighter environmental regulations in industrialised nations. It is said that these advanced materials can make vehicles 10% lighter and as a result improve fuel efficiency by 4-5% when applied to major components. (29 February 2008, Nikkei Shimbun)

This is an intermediate step to reducing vehicle weight by 40% with carbon fibre and increasing fuel efficiency by 30%.

Reduction in waste concrete from nuclear power plants
The Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) and general contractor Kumagai Gumi have jointly developed low-cost radiation shielding concrete for nuclear power plants. The concrete has a structure of three layers: low neutron activation concrete; concrete containing boron, which is capable of absorbing neutron; and ordinary concrete. The developed concrete uses half as much boron as conventional concrete for blocking neutron does and as a result its estimated cost is 10% to 50% of that of conventional ones. Moreover, at the end of the lifetime of a plant, the amount of radioactive concrete will be half since only the first and second layers are radioactive. [Therefore, the decommissioning costs would be lower] (8 July 2008, Nikkei Sangyo Shimbun)

Low-cost separation membrane for hydrogen production
Nippon Seisen has developed a membrane capable of separating high-purity hydrogen from natural gas. The 15μm-thick paradigm alloy membrane produces hydrogen of over 99.9999% purity, requiring no mechanical devices to remove impurity. Its cost for hydrogen production is 25% of that of conventional technologies. They will market it for hydrogen production for residential fuel cells and fuel cell vehicles as early as 2009. (9 July 2008, Nikkei Sangyo Shimbun)

Matsushita attempts to commercialise large scale organic EL TVs
Matsushita will establish a prototype production line and achieve mass production technology aimed at commercialising 40-inch TVs. Since Matsushita signed the license agreement with the US Company, Kennedy Display Technology, Matsushita has launched development at the Semiconductor Research Laboratory in Kyoto. Matsushita will increase the number of engineers, who are especially committed to development, up to 200 and also recruit experts on organic EL from outside (29 July 2008, Nikkei Shimbun).

Starting mass-production of bio-plastics
Mitsubishi Chemical will embark on mass-production of synthetic resins using plants as a raw material. The company plan to use sugar from potato for biodegradable plastic and plant-origin starch for polycarbonate. For the biodegradable one, they will build a plant capable of producing 10,000t per year in 2010 and expand it to a 100,000t scale as early as 2015. As to polycarbonate, they will build a test plant as early as 2009 and investigate feasibility of commercialisation in 2010 or later. (18 July 2008, Nikkei Shimbun)

More reports of Japanese technology from the British Embassy in Japan
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