Friday, July 13, 2012

REVITALIZING JAPAN -- Living on an island arc / Japan's geography gives birth to sought-after technology

From Daily Yomiuri Online;  REVITALIZING JAPAN -- Living on an island arc / Japan's geography gives birth to sought-after technology

The following is the third installment of "Living on an island arc," part of a series of articles examining ways to restore Japan's vitality after the March 11, 2011, disaster. This section examines ways of turning Japan's weak points into strengths.

Plumes of steam 10 meters high rise amid tea plantations on the slope of a 2,000-meter mountain about two hours' drive from Bandung, the capital of West Java Province, Indonesia.

The sulfurous-smelling steam columns gush out of a dozen wells dug by two Japanese companies, Marubeni Corp. and Toshiba Corp., as part of the construction of the Patuha Unit 1 geothermal power plant that is scheduled to open in 2014.

Three Japanese companies--Toshiba, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and Fuji Electric Co.--hold about 70 percent of the global market for geothermal power development.

Their dominance springs at least partially from Japan's geography, an arc-shaped archipelago on the western side of the Pacific Ring of Fire. This volcanic environment--called an island arc--has spurred innovation in fields related to volcanic and seismic activity, such as geothermal energy and earthquake-resistant technology.

Steam from beneath the earth often contains sulfur and other impurities, so turbines for geothermal power generation must be built with specially designed material to protect against corrosion. Japanese firms have a decided edge over their overseas competitors in this area.

Indonesia, another island arc in the ring of fire, has even more geothermal energy resources than Japan. Also possessing a rapidly growing economy, demand for power in Indonesia has been rising about 8.5 percent per year.

Indonesia's government plans to expand the country's geothermal power generation capacity from about 800 megawatts in 2010 to 5,000 megawatts by 2025.

According to Atsushi Shibata, chief of the No. 1 overseas power generation project team at Marubeni, "Japan's global technological advantage in geothermal power generation will remain strong for a long time."
The unfortunate tendency for earthquakes in Japan has helped domestic firms compete internationally in the field of geothermal power.

Safety is No. 1

Japan International Consultants for Transportation Co., a new firm jointly capitalized by 10 railway operators including East Japan Railway Co., began operations in April.

Many emerging economies have decided to build new railway networks both fueled by and to facilitate red-hot economic growth.

Japan's rail technology has caught the eye of such nations as Brazil, India and Vietnam for its safety even during major earthquakes, as well as the elaborately designed, highly reliable train operation systems.
The high quality of Japan-made train cars and other equipment, however, comes with a big price tag.
Nevertheless, according to Hiroshi Komatsu, director of Japan Consultants' planning and marketing headquarters, "Japan is one of the very few countries that has been successful in operating profitable railways.

"We want to show emerging economies how adopting safe and reliable Japan-developed rail systems can benefit them in the long run," he said.

Japanese infrastructure technologies have gradually taken root in several areas in Taiwan, Japan's neighbor at the southern end of its island arc.

Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR), sometimes called the Taiwan Shinkansen, opened in 2007 and was the first place Japan's Shinkansen technology was employed overseas.

The THSR contract was initially awarded to a consortium of German and French companies, but in wake of a massive earthquake that struck Taiwan in 1999, a consortium of Japanese firms including Mitsui & Co. snatched the contract away, primarily because Taiwan took a second look at Japan's earthquake-resistant technology.

About 120 THSR employees underwent training by Central Japan Railway Co. and other Japanese rail operators.

"The Taiwanese trainees were drilled thoroughly on fundamentals such as on-time train operation and regular equipment inspections," according to one person familiar with the training.

THSR placed orders with Kawasaki Heavy Industries and other domestic train car manufacturers for 48 bullet train cars earlier this year, a contract worth about 19 billion yen.

Multifarious edges

In architecture, Japanese contractors including Kumagai Gumi Co. helped build the Taipei 101 Tower in Taiwan's capital. The 508-meter tower is one of the world's highest at 101 stories and was completed in 2004.
The building features cutting-edge earthquake-resistant technology from Japan, as well as an ultrahigh-quality steel frames crafted by Nippon Steel Corp.

Taipei has also introduced Japanese-style systems for tap water.

Since 2008, the Taipei city water department has been adopting "accordion" water pipes that are highly earthquake resistant. The pipes are the same as those used by Tokyo Suido Services Co., a quasi-public corporation that cooperates with the Tokyo metropolitan government.

The "overwhelmingly low" rate of leakage of the Tokyo water system was crucial in the decision to employ Japanese-made pipes, according to Wu Yanglung, head of the Taipei water department. Tokyo's water leakage rate is only 3.1 percent, far below the global average of 25 percent to 30 percent.

Thirty percent of Taipei's water pipes have been replaced with the accordion pipes, bringing the water leakage rate down to 19 percent from 27 percent in 2006. The department plans to increase the proportion of accordion pipes to 90 percent by 2025.

Japan's island-arc shape has helped nurture a wide variety of cutting-edge technologies that can be implemented in projects around the world.


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