ENTERPRISE FUTURE
O-ta & G-ko's surprise visit/Battery-driven gas leak alarm for residential use,
O-ta & G-ko
  • Hisao Ohnishi / Executive Researcher Energy Technology Laboratory
  • Atsushi Nonaka / Surface Science Team Energy Technology Laboratory
  • O-ta / Intellectually-curious, energetic and gentle pure-bred dog
  • G-ko / Eco-friendly cat that hates doing troublesome work and tries to save time and effort on everything

Why was the Pikopiko made to be battery-driven?

O-ta

Today, we came here since we heard that a world-first technology had been developed here. Nice to meet you, Dr. Ohnishi and Mr. Nonaka.

G-ko

Explain it so plainly that even we can understand.

Dr. Ohnishi

We will (laughter)!

O-ta

Well, what is this world-first technology that Dr. Ohnishi and Mr. Nonaka have been involved in?

Dr. Ohnishi:It is an ultra-low power methane sensor included in the Pikopiko battery-driven gas leak alarm for residential use. / G-ko:I know the Pikopiko. It's a device that detects gas leaks.

G-ko

What is the difference between the new Pikopiko and previous ones?

Dr. Ohnishi

The new Pikopiko became battery-driven, so it does not need a cord for power supply.

O-ta

Battery-driven? Why was it necessary to make it battery-driven?

Dr. Ohnishi

Since city gas is lighter than air, a gas leak alarm for residential use must be installed near the ceiling. However, since there is an increasing number of houses with ventilating fans built-in, the Pikopiko needs to be installed by routing a cord from an outlet near the floor.

G-ko

I don't want to install the Pikopiko if it is necessary to reroute a cord on the wall. I may not look it, but I'm a minimalist.

Mr. Nonaka

We understand how you feel. That is why we started developing a cordless gas leak alarm.

left:Traditional plug-in gas leak alarm / right:Newly-developed battery-driven gas leak alarm

Dr. Ohnishi

Look at these. The left one is a traditional plug-in gas leak alarm and the one on the right is a battery-driven one, which was newly developed.

O-ta

The battery-driven one on the right is smaller and thinner as a whole although it contains batteries.

Miscalculation led to a major breakthrough!?

G-ko

But, isn't it easy to just make the Pikopiko battery-driven? There are many battery-driven goods in the world. We live in an age where even vehicles can be battery-driven. You are far behind the times, aren't you?

O-ta

G-ko-san, this did not seem to be such an easy problem that it can be solved simply by changing the power supply method.

Dr. Ohnishi

To drive a gas leak alarm for many years without changing batteries, its power consumption needs to be reduced significantly. Surprisingly, the power consumption must be made 1/1000th or lower than that of plug-in ones. We had to achieve such super power savings.

O-ta

Reduced to 1/1000th!?

Dr. Ohnishi

That's right. Since the most power-consuming part in a gas leak alarm is the sensor, which is the core of the alarm, to create a sensor having ultra-low power consumption, we needed to develop a technology for making the sensor smaller and thinner.

G-ko

I guess developing this technology for making a sensor smaller and thinner was difficult.

Dr. Ohnishi

Yes. Not only Osaka Gas but also major semiconductor manufacturers and other manufacturers in Japan and abroad had attempted to create a thin-film sensor. However, none of the attempts had been successful. Over the years, achievement of this goal had been called a pipe dream.

O-ta

It was such a hard task, wasn't it?

Dr. Ohnishi:To create a thin-film sensor, which achieves 1000 times lower power consumption, we made hundreds of films on a trial basis with this high-frequency magnetron sputtering device. / G-ko:You are very patient.

Dr. Ohnishi

We also nearly abandoned the research and development. By the way, G-ko-chan, do you know what the main component of city gas is?

G-ko

No, I don't. I'm a cat. Don't ask such difficult questions.

O-ta

G-ko-san, you insist you are a cat whenever you fell into an unfavorable position, don't you? Well, I believe the main component of city gas is methane gas.

Dr. Ohnishi

O-ta-kun, you are right! Methane makes up about 90 percent of the volume of city gas. Since it is difficult to detect methane with a sensor in the first place, we experienced much trouble in improving its ability to sense methane in the attempt to develop a thin film methane sensor.

G-ko

But you did it finally, didn't you? What was the factor that led to success?

Dr. Ohnishi

It was really a product of chance. When we were carrying out experiments, one day we made a pressure conversion mistake and accidentally created a thin film where we had injected an excessive amount of argon gas. Instead of discarding the thin film, which was made under incorrect conditions, we evaluated its performance. We found that it had extremely high sensitivity to methane gas.

O-ta

That is indeed a case of serendipity, isn't it?

G-ko

What is that tongue-twisting term, seren … something?

O-ta

Serendipity means the phenomenon of accidentally finding something valuable or pleasant. In research and development, which require low-key efforts and long periods of time, a mere chance could lead to a major breakthrough.

Aiming to make gas leak alarms throughout the world battery-driven!

Mr. Nonaka

To tell the truth, there was another case of serendipity.

G-ko

That means you made another mistake! Are you all right… seriously?

Dr. Ohnishi

Yes, we are all right (laughter). Sensors have a mechanism to remove components other than the target component as much as possible using a catalyst. We make a catalyst by burning a mixture of several ingredients in a furnace at a high temperature of several hundred degrees to be synthesized. One day, we erroneously burnt it at a temperature of a hundred and several tens of degrees higher than the predetermined temperature. We again did not discard this catalyst and evaluated its performance. As a result, we found that it is a revolutionary catalyst.

O-ta

What is its main feature?

Dr. Ohnishi

It can selectively allow only methane to pass through. Thanks to the discovery of this catalyst, we were successful in developing a sensor that can detect only methane.

Dr. Ohnishi:The discovery of a catalyst can selectively allow only methane to pass through was another decisive factor. / O-ta:Hmm... This is the furnace where the catalyst was made, isn't it? / G-ko:What is this device? / Dr. Ohnishi:It's a device for checking whether sensors can detect gas correctly. Since misdetection cannot be permitted in gas leak alarms, we needed to closely check this.

G-ko

In research and development, you have to proceed in a roundabout way. I would hate doing such troublesome work.

Mr. Nonaka

It's troublesome, indeed (laughter), but such accidental breakthroughs became the shortest way in the end to develop the sensor technology using thin film for the world's first gas leak alarm.

Mr. Nonaka:This is the sensor we developed in this way. / O-ta:How small it is! Is methane detected using this?

Mr. Nonaka

This small sensor is packed with world-first technology. It's one of world's smallest sensors, which has extremely high sensitivity and selectivity to detect only methane gas. Since it consumes ultra-low power due to its small body but possesses excellent reliability, it is expected to be applied to other fields in the future.

O-ta

The more I listened to the stories about the sensor, the more I became impressed with it. So, thanks to this sensor, the Pikopiko battery-driven gas leak alarm for residential use was created!

G-ko

It's thanks to seren … something, rather than the sensor, isn't it?

Mr. Nonaka

Indeed (laughter). But fortunately, our efforts were highly evaluated from all quarters and won many awards, including the 2016 Technical Development Award of The Electrochemical Society of Japan (Tanahashi Award), the 2016 Chemical Technology Award of The Chemical Society of Japan, and...

G-ko

Stop! If you start making boring boasts, I won't listen! Still, I will have the new Pikopiko installed in my house.

Mr. Nonaka

Please! We aim to apply this sensor, which can detect various kinds of gas, to other fields in the future.

O-ta

It's great!

G-ko

I'm sorry to interrupt, but I have to be going residential now. I should go on patrol in my neighborhood. I'm very busy.

Dr. Ohnishi

I understand! Thank you for coming to visit us today when you're so busy (laughter)!

O-ta:Keep up the good job, you two!! / G-ko:Hurry. Let's go home.

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