Expansion of overlap between cyber and real worlds
Environmental technology to support inferring IoT
Expansion of overlap between cyber and real worlds
Quantum dot sensors
- Quantum dot sensors are highly sensitive infrared sensors with high wavelength selectivity that use the confinement effect on the electrons of a structure (a quantum dot) of several nanometers in size. By mounting this sort of high sensitivity infrared sensor onto a satellite, we anticipate that it will be possible to obtain information relating to the global natural environment, such as water, heat, atmosphere, plants, and minerals, from space.
- IoT Devices Research Laboratories has succeeded in obtaining infrared images by developing a quantum dot sensor array that targets the technologically difficult mid and far infrared regions, which are suited to sensing vegetation, soil, and so on. At present, we are also taking on the challenge of researching and developing a new form of infrared sensor, aiming for even higher functionality.
Electricity fingerprint analysis
Energy management technology aimed at the efficient, waste-free utilization of electrical power is attracting attention as a suitable countermeasure for dealing with global warming and the rise of energy prices. R&D and practical implementation of this technology is currently becoming very active.
With regard to energy management, a meticulously applied monitoring of the power consumption situations of the target electrical devices leads to promoting reduced and efficient use of energy, while at the same time comfort, convenience and productivity in life and work styles are maintained.
NEC has been developing the electricity fingerprint technology that aims at the simple visualization of the power consumption of individual electrical devices.
Processing platforms for that penetrate into the real world
As IoT infers, data communication traffic is increasing in every part of the world. NEC Central Research Laboratories is researching and developing long distance and large capacity optical communications, aiming to enable anyone to enjoy high level services anytime, anywhere, from outer space to the ocean floor.
Large capacity optical communications
With the global proliferation of smartphones, home optical fiber communication services, and other systems that generate massive amounts of data, faster and larger capacity intercontinental communications networks are becoming essential. As one of the world's top three optical submarine cable vendors, NEC is engaged in a range of R&D activities such as developing digital coherent technology and researching into longer distance and greater capacity optical communications.
Digital coherent technology to realize a 100 gigabit ultra-high-speed optical transmission system.
NEC Central Research Laboratories is involved in an initiative for practical application of digital coherent technology, together with Mitsubishi Electric, Fujitsu and NTT Network Innovation Laboratories. We have succeeded in developing digital signal processing (DSP) to instantaneously process optical signals received at a speed of 100 gigabits per second and transform them into digital signals, thereby realizing the practical application of a world-pioneering 100 gigabit level ultra-high-speed optical transmission system.
Free-space optical communications
Recently, opportunities for using small flying objects such as low-priced small satellites and drones are increasing. For example, attempts are being made to analyze, in real time and on the ground, picture and video footage taken by satellites and to connect IoT devices to the internet by installing base stations in drones, thereby creating base stations in every possible location on the ground. In this manner, high-speed communications, both aerial and on-the-ground, are essential for handling the large volumes of data communicated by flying objects. NEC is conducting research into free-space optical communications for high-speed, wireless aerial and on-the-ground communications.
Free-space optical communications technology for realizing high-speed wireless data transfer at a comparable speed to fiber optic communications.
In advanced countries frequency resources for near-surface microwave frequency communications are seriously lacking. In the remote sensing field, for example, we must find ways to resolve issues such as expanding the observation range and improving the resolution and frequency of observations. NEC Central Research Laboratories is developing technology to enable more technologically difficult near-surface communications by using free-space optical communications, though which data can be communicated at high speeds unrestricted by frequency resource limitations.
Environmental technology to support inferring IoT
To improve the convenience of eco-cars (self-driving electric vehicles (EVs), electric buses, etc.) and IoT devices (robots, drones, etc.) the numbers of which are expected to grow significantly in the future, we are conducting R&D into high-performance rechargeable lithium-ion batteries (LIB) as a power source. LIB use our original technologies such as a pouch type packaging, manganese spinel cathode, and electrolyte additives, and are already being used safely in variety of applications such as EVs, electric power assisted bicycles, and home energy storage systems. In addition, we are currently taking on the challenge of developing innovative safety technologies and next-generation high energy density LIB, by utilizing the advantages of NEC's original technologies.
Practical vehicles need 500-km cruising range and battery capacity of EV has a direct impact on its running distance. In order to pervade the eco-friendly EV, we are developing high capacity LIB (cells) by using layered oxide materials such as lithium nickel oxide (High-Ni) as the cathode and alloy materials such as silicon (Si) as the anode. However, if the stored energy become uncontrolled, cells using these materials can become dangerous because of thermal runaway of active materials which may lead to cell parts or the electrolyte catching fire. NEC Central Research Laboratories has dramatically improved the safety of Si & High-Ni cells while maintaining their performance by developing a separator with enhanced heat resistance and flame-retardant electrolyte to prevent the cell from rupturing or catching fire even in the event of a fault causing thermal runaway of active materials. We aim to further improve cell performances such as durability, aiming for practical application in around 2020.
Fig 2. Appearance of a battery after external short-circuit test (7 Ah cell @ 55℃)
Thermoelectric generation based on spin-Seebeck effect
Convert waste heat to electric power and improve energy efficiency
- A new thermoelectric device using the "spin-Seebeck effect"
- Simple structure that enables easy production
- Coating process applicable on various shaped heat sources
Spin Seebeck thermoelectric energy conversion
We expect to see an explosive spread of the Internet of Things (IoT) in the future. People and things will be freely connected, enabling a safer and more comfortable society. It is said that the number of information devices (IoT devices) needed to support society will total more than one trillion around the world. However, we still have not completely solved the very basic technological problem of how we can supply power to each of these devices.
We are currently researching and developing a way to transform how we supply power to IoT devices by using spin Seebeck thermoelectric energy conversion, a new principle that can be used to convert the copious amounts of heat that are wasted in our daily lives into energy. We are conducting R&D every day to realize a future IoT society able to supply sufficient power to IoT devices by using the heat from factories and homes, and even from the warmth of the human body.
Practically applying the "spin current" physical phenomenon that originated in Japan
Spin refers to the small magnetic quantum possessed by an electron. Just as charge current occurs when electrons flow through matter, it was found in experiments conducted over a period of around 10 years that "spin current" exists when spin flows through matter.
Technologies using spin range from ancient technologies based on permanent magnets, to the recent "spintronics" that combines the features of spin with electronic concepts. All of these technologies are already being practically applied. Spin current is a phenomenon that has the potential to create a technological field beyond the scope of these technologies. And among the all technologies using spin current , spin Seebeck thermoelectric energy conversion technology is seen as having the most potential for practical application. In spin Seebeck thermoelectric energy conversion, it is possible to rectify the movement of heat in matter to produce spin current, and then to draw it out as an electric power.
NEC is currently participating in a national project led by Tohoku University, which is the world's leading spin current research institute, to develop a highly practical element with high thermoelectric conversion efficiency that can be directly formed above the heat source as a coating, etc.
One of the major issues with the practical application of spin Seebeck thermoelectric energy conversion is the development of new materials. NEC is searching for a new material suited to use with spin current from among the countless compounds that exist, by using automated technology known as the combinatorial method to search exhaustively and very efficiently for combinations of composite materials. The vast experimental data obtained from this is being combined with simulation results obtained from theoretical calculations of physical properties. This database of materials big data is then analyzed by leveraging NEC's strengths in information processing technologies such as AI and machine learning. In this manner, we are pushing forward with initiatives to enable practical application of this technology while also using the latest methods for the R&D itself.
- NEC, NEC TOKIN and Tohoku University develop a spin Seebeck thermoelectric device with conversion efficiency more than 10 times higher than existing methods
Nanocarbon is a nano-sized carbon material formed from graphite and has wide range of anticipated applications, such as batteries, capacitors, sensors, semiconductor elements, adsorbents, conductive materials, and pharmaceuticals.
NEC has been a pioneer in this field ever since our Special Senior Researcher, Mr. Sumio Iijima, discovered carbon nanotubes in 1991, and further discovered carbon nanohorn aggregates in 1998. In 2016, Mr. Ryota Yuge, a principal researcher, discovered the new material carbon nanobrush, which has excellent electrical conductivity, absorption, and workability properties. In this and many other ways, NEC continues to take the initiative in developing new materials and applying nanocarbon technologies to devices.
In 2016, the IoT Devices Research Laboratories discovered a new material which we named the "carbon nanobrush," a collection of carbon nanohorn fibers with pointed tips. This material has the high electrical conductivity of carbon nanotubes, while at the same time providing excellent absorption and dispersion properties. The potential for applying this material to energy devices and using it in resin composites is high because it can be relatively easily manufactured by using the same manufacturing equipment as carbon nanohorn aggregates.
The world currently produces around 230 million tons of plastic annually (approximately 13 million tons in Japan), and as most of these plastics are produced by reacting petroleum-based raw materials under high-temperature, high-pressure conditions, the amount of CO2 generated in the plastic production process and the large amount of energy consumption required for production have become issues. In response, progress has been made in the development and use of bioplastics which use renewable plant resources capable of CO2 fixation as raw materials.
NEC develops highly functional bioplastics made from plant-based raw materials, contributing to the production of more environmentally friendly electronic equipment. We have developed flame-resistant bioplastics and biocoatings that have a high plant composition ratio of more than 75%, and released desktop computers and projectors that use this material. We will expand the application of these bioplastics and biocoatings to a wide range of NEC products. NEC also has developed a new bioplastic produced from non-edible plant sources such as cellulose. This bioplastic is the first of its kind in the world to achieve both a high plant composition ratio and a durability that is suitable for electric equipment.
NEC strengthens and expands the use of "NeCycle(R)" bioplastic
Tokyo, June 30, 2014 - NEC Corporation (NEC; TSE: 6701) and Kao Corporation have jointly developed a flame-retardant polylactic acid composite (flame-retardant bioplastic) with the world's highest plant component ratio (over 75% of the organic material in the composite is polylactic acid) and superior durability in terms of chemical resistance, light resistance, and surface hardness.
NEC has enhanced the bioplastic's performance through a unique formula that adds flame retardants like aluminum hydroxide and charring agents together with other special improving agents to polylactic acid, the main component (biomass-based polymer) of NEC's bioplastic "NeCycle(R)" In so doing, NEC is the first to achieve a bioplastic with durability that exceeds flame retardant petroleum-based plastics used in conventional consumer electronic devices such as personal computers.
NEC's bioplastic has excellent chemical resistance to gasoline and strong alkali cleaners, etc., surface hardness, light resistance and dimensional stability (non-expansion/shrinkage). These features allow its application as a highly durable plastic for the distribution, transportation, medical and financial fields, which require exacting specifications.
Having achieved this superior durability, NEC has begun applying the bioplastic for internal components of outdoor gas station fueling systems (made by NEC Infrontia1), which require reliable chemical resistance in particular.
- Note 1:Company name changed to NEC Platforms on July 1, 2014
NEC Reduces Production Energy for Cellulose-based Bioplastic Using Non-edible Plant Resource by 90%, Promoting Expanded Utilization
NEC has developed a new production technology which allows it to produce a high-functionality bioplastic using just one-tenth the energy (fewer CO2 emissions) that was previously required for processes using the non-edible plant resource of cellulose and natural oil as raw materials.
This Cellulose-based High-functionality Bioplastic developed independently by NEC is synthesized by chemically bonding cellulose, a primary component of materials such as wood and straw, with the oily component cardanol, which is derived from the agricultural by-product of cashew nut shells. As well as boasting excellent thermoplasticity, heat resistance and water resistance, this bioplastic features a characteristically high plant content (approximately 70%), and there are plans for it to be commercialized in durable products such as electronic devices. The cardanol used in the process was chemically modified into a reactive structure (hereafter referred to as "modified cardanol") in collaboration with Tohoku Chemical Industries Ltd.
In the new Two-stage heterogeneous synthesis process developed by NEC, instead of dissolving the raw material cellulose into an organic solvent (homogenous system) as before, after being swollen into a gel-like substance with an organic solvent (heterogeneous system), it is bonded with the modified cardanol (long-chain component) and acetic acid (short-chain component) in two stages to synthesize a resin. This resin can be easily collected from a liquid solution through solid-liquid separation methods such as precipitation and filtration. As this process achieves the reaction conditions at almost ordinary pressure and medium temperature (100℃ or less), and does not require a solvent for separation of the produced resin, as was required with the conventional homogeneous process, a significant reduction in the amount of solvent needed for synthesis (a roughly 90% decrease from the conventional process) is achieved. As a result, this Cellulose-based High-functionality Bioplastic can be produced for about one tenth of the energy (CO2 emissions) when compared with conventional methods, thereby promising a drastic reduction in production costs when the material is mass produced in the future.
Development of "Urushi black" bioplastic, a non-edible-plant-based bioplastic that embodies the exquisiteness of Japanese traditional lacquerware
We, in collaboration with the Kyoto Institute of Technology and a representative Japanese lacquerware (Urushi craft) artist, Dr. Yutaro Shimode1 (Shimode makie-studio·Professor, Kyoto Sangyo University), announced the development of a bioplastic using resin (cellulose resin2) from grasses, trees, and other non-edible plant resources that features the highly regarded "Urushi black" color of Japanese traditional lacquerware3.
In addition to NEC's history in the development of a unique cellulose-based plastic using non-edible plant materials for use in durable electronic products, we have now developed a new bioplastic that, in addition to high functionality, realizes the decorativeness. In order to create the new cellulose-based bioplastic, we developed a unique technology for mixing additives to adjust coloration and light reflectance of the material, enabling, for the first time, the realization of optical properties (low brightness, high glossiness, etc.) similar to the deep and shiny "Urushi black" color of high-grade Japanese lacquerware. Furthermore, Japanese lacquerware is fabricated by coating a base material with a base layer and then Japanese lacquer, and repeatedly polishing its surface, making it unsuited to mass production. For this newly developed bioplastic, the materials can be heated, melted, and injected into molds (mirror-finishing) to form shapes (injection molding4), as with ordinary plastics. This makes it possible to mass-produce the bioplastic into products of various shapes and patterns.
- Note 1:Japanese lacquerware artist (The Urushi natural lacquer work artist), Dr. Yutaro Shimode: a third-generation president of Shimode makie-studio, who is a representative lacquerware artist in Japan. He is a professor at the Faculty of Cultural Studies of Kyoto Sangyo University. His recent international engagements include being invited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan to hold lectures and exhibits at famous museums in Europe. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs website: http://www.mofa.go.jp/files/000164400.pdf)
- Note 2:Cellulose bioplastic (cellulose resin): Resin made using cellulose that is the main ingredient of the stems of cereal crops and wood, and is not suitable for human consumption. It is melted by fusing the cellulose with long-chain fatty acids and short-chain fatty acids such as acetic acid and propionic acid, and heating them to around 200℃. This time, we used cellulose resin with added short-chain fatty acids, acetic acid and propionic acid, fused to the cellulose.
- Note 3:Lacquerware: Conventionally, Japanese lacquerware is made by substrate processing of the surface of wood products, manual coating with lacquer (a mixture of natural lacquer substance and coloring agents), and letting the lacquer harden, followed by repeated polishing of the product. It is a traditional artisan product unique to Japan which is highly evaluated internationally, and at one time Makie lacquerware was inscripted with 'japan' in small letters to identify it. Since manufacturing involves a tedious process, mass production as an industrial product has not been possible.
- Note 4:Injection molding: A common plastic molding technique whereby plastic is thermofused and poured into a mold to form. By changing the structure of the mold, various shaped products can be mass produced. Our lacquer-like "Urushi black" bioplastic used a mold finished like the surface of a mirror.