Japan & The Next Solar Technologies

Japan & The Next Solar Technologies

Japan is currently working hard t on nuclear power. For that matter, their goal is to increase the number of project involving alternative energy. This includes initiative such as the recent solar collector, located in the Miyazaki Prefecture (University of Miyazaki’s Kibana Campus). The faculty of engineering of the university successfully completed the solar thermal collector. The solar thermal collector is being called the most leading edge at a worldwide scale and the biggest in Japan.

The university wants to create a major research center for solar energy; that is why they are currently attempting to develop new technologies in this field. This university is attempting to build a bigger research center for solar energy; since the Miyazaki, region is indeed the sunniest region of the entire nation. The campus is now operating its solar equipment, and it has four different types of large facilities. The two facilities were built by a different company. Together, they have 179 kilowatts of maximum power output. This is enough to satisfy about 3 percent of the electric needs of the campus. The university is collaborating alongside with the industry in a combined research that as the particularity advantage of comparing the performance of the different systems under equal conditions.

In the South corner of the campus, a new solar thermal collector (beam down) has been completed. Eight hundred and eighty mirrors with 50 centimeters each are able to track the sun completely automatically. A tower of 16 meters will gather the sunlight in a reflector with 4.3 meters of wide. The reflector is like a bowl that is upside-down. Later, the light is irradiated (beamed-down as you prefer) through the focal point below the “bowl”. This accumulates all the energy in the form of thermal energy (heat), and that will result in thousand times more energy than that produced by the direct sunlight.

Technology patented by Mitaka Kohki Co. (optical equipment producer, Mitaka, Tokyo). The technology was used by local companies established in the Miyazaki Prefecture in order to build and assemble the tower and the mirrors.

In the United States and other nations’ conventional designs for solar thermal power generation have been commercialized and used. However, they can only reach a temperature of 600 degrees Celsius. Katsushige Nakamura (President of Mitaka Kohki) proudly said that their new design “beam down” can easily reach a temperature of 1400 degrees Celsius. Such temperature will be capable of breaking down water (H2O) and create hydrogen. This can thereafter used to fuel cells of power. Generally, to generate such high temperature and maintaining it, burning of oil and other fossil fuels is required. To circumvent this situation; the Niigata University has the necessary technology to produce hydrogen using solar-energy collection/ It is doing a joint study between the university and the industry in this field.

Japan has no raw silicon to use in the production of solar cells. Japan is totally dependent on the imports of this crucial resource. This is why they are hoping that the new solar-energy collectors can be transformed into furnaces (solar furnaces). This might enable them to use the sun as the unique source to produce the necessary heat. If the idea is successful Japan will have a source of cheap and raw silicon to use in the solar cells’ production. In the last year, expert on semiconductor engineering, Professor Kensuke Nishioka had success when he tried to produce extremely pure silica using volcanic soil from a deposit located in Kyushu (south). Silica becomes silicon when its oxygen is removed from it. The Professor said that if the solar furnace was capable of reaching a temperature of 1800 degrees Celsius. This is the necessary temperature to remove oxygen from silica and transform it into silicon. If this process is successful, it will drastically reduce the cost of solar cells up to a third of their current price.

Professor also adds that the current method involves using a furnace (feed by electrical power). Professor says half of the total price of the silicon comes from the cost of electrical power. According to the Professor, China conquered the solar energy international market because they produce extremely pure silica from various natural deposits and in that country, the electric power is cheap.

Nakamura stated that the deserts of Africa can be a potential business because sand has much more silicon, in comparison to the silicon found in volcanic soil. If they use the solar potential of such areas, the deserts of Africa can become factories of silicon. He said that medium and small companies could easily enter in the solar-energy sector that has been monopolized by large companies with a strong financial power.

These interesting projects are part of a bigger project named Photovoltaic Generation Project. This has been launched in the academic year of 2009. This interdisciplinary project covers different variables of the project, from the materials to the practical applications. This will surely interest act as operators. This is the first curriculum in Japan’s specialization process in solar power. This project is also training people who are going to work in industries related to solar power.

The university has a wide range of courses; from lectures for researchers and professionals to even a lab dedicated on children. An elementary student, who attended the beginner’s course of this school, said that it was amazing to see how they can send solar cells to space in order to generate solar power. The student demonstrated a great interest in the near-future technologies presented by Professor Nishioka. Technologies related to solar energy are constantly growing, and this market continues to expand itself. The project leader, associated Professor Kenji Yoshino is very positive about the project.

Yoshino said that China is overpowering them. However, the requests for Japanese technology are high. For Yoshino, creating interdisciplinary groups is a very urgent concern to turn such a situation around. They are planning to demonstrate their strength. They also plan to make the Miyazaki University into a powerful center of solar-energy research.

Source: AJW and ASAHI

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RPN's contributed to this report.

Professional freelancer in Green Technology and Scientific Development. Educational background in the field of Human Resources Management.

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