TT-463 -- From Toilets to Fuel Cells, ebiz news from Japan

* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E 'S T A K E * * * * * * *

A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, March 30, 2008 Issue No. 463


- What's new
- News
- Candidate roundup/Vacancies
- Upcoming events
- Corrections/Feedback
- News credits

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Several years ago, we predicted that Japan in the future
had the potential to become a net energy exporter. With few
oil and gas reserves, and any hydro capacity already
tapped, this seemed a rather bold prediction. However, we
were referring to the emergence of new materials
technologies that will allow the world to create energy
from the sun, wind, and water. While such technologies are
not unique to Japan -- indeed, many were not even invented
here, the Japanese ability to refine, improve, and mass
manufacture seems to ensure that those benefitting from
commercialization will be the shareholders of Japanese

This is why we believe the Japanese stockmarket offers such
an attractive buy today. Many companies who will be
foundation players in the next energy revolution are
currently trading at record low prices. Yes, making such
investments now is not a short-term flip, we're talking 3-5
years for proper commercialization and resulting profits.
However, the fleetest Japanese firms are already launching
new products, and we believe that the sovereign funds of
current energy producing nations, especially those of
Russia and the Middle East, will be watching closely. We
expect significant capital to flow to these companies over
the next year or two.

Last week, Toto, a major manufacturer (JPY400bn company
with 60% of the whiteware market), but which is currently
trading at 30% less than its share price of one year ago,
announced that it will introduce a solid-oxide home-use
fuel cell that will sell for just JPY1m (US$10k) per kilowatt
output, about 2/3 cheaper than existing early-stage
products. This is quite an amazing landmark, because it
puts fuel cells much closer to the 2003 energy industry
objective of JPY500K per kilowatt -- something that was
predicted would be achieved in or around 2015. It also
offers a price point whereby fuel cells will be cheaper to
install and operate over a 10-year period than conventional
automatic gas-powered water heaters.

Toto won't release products into the Japan market until
2011, but is apparently already shipping 200W and 500W
units to USA. The company says it has been able to slash
costs by doing away with Platinum as a catalyst, and has
also figured out a low-cost way to mass-produce the actual
cells as well.

But if you can't wait for Toto to introduce their units,
Sekisui House has already announced that it will start
selling houses this summer bundled with a fuel cell. They
will be leasing the units out at a price of JPY100,000
annually for 10 years, saving home owners JPY190,000 a
year, after costs, on utilities.

[Continued below...]

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[...Article continues]

As many readers will be aware, fuel cells take a
hydrogen-rich liquid fuel such as methane, or a solid fuel
such as hydrogenated aluminum, and react it with a catalyst
such as Platinum. The reaction separates the fuel's
electrons and protons and the electrons are converted to
electricity. A lot of heat is also produced and can be used
to heat water or provide warm air. Fuel cells are not
batteries, in that they can't store energy. However, the
reaction can be controlled by limiting the incoming flow of
fuel, and in this way, they can function as a "near
on-demand" device.

Until now, fuel cells have been viewed as a clean,
efficient portable power source for remote locations
(NASA), and for the military (German subs run on fuel
cells, for example). They have not been widely used for
vehicles yet, because the supply of hydrogen into the
transport economy requires complex and vast infrastructure,
the fuel cells themselves are not particularly efficient
as compared to an internal combustion engine, and you need
a safe means of storing highly pressured hydrogen as well.
They are, however, ideal for houses.

The challenges of using hydrogen are starting to be
overcome -- especially given the incentives of oil being
over US$100 a barrel, AND global warming (whether it exists
or not) being taken up as a cause celebe by governments
around the world -- not least of all the Japanese
government. Fuel cells are typically very clean, as they
don't combust the fuel but instead break it down to produce
by-products such as heat, eletricity, some carbon dioxide,
and clean water.

The argument for fuel cells as a means of efficient heating
and lighting is compelling. Because a given fuel, be it
city gas, LPG, naphtha, or kerosene (all readily available
fuels in Japan), is not combusted, the level of efficiency
of usage climbs substantially. Tokyo Gas reckons that only
37% of electricity generated at a thermal power plant is
actually used, with the remainder being lost during
transmission or wasted during lulls in demand.

In comparison, an in-house fuel-cell co-generation unit
converts 31% of the fuel's energy into electricity and
another 40% into heat -- for a total usage level of 71%.
Not only that, but a fully functional 1kW fuel cell cuts
carbon dioxide emissions by 40% and energy consumption by
26% when compared to conventional water heaters. Tokyo Gas
reckons that a typical household will save more than
JPY60,000 a year, after amortizing the cost of their fuel
cell unit.

Back in the early 2000's the Japanese government decided to
start subsidizing the sale of fuel cells for the home.
Manufacturers are already receiving such subsidies, worth
around JPY2m per unit, and consumers are mooted to receive
direct subsidies from 2009. Just as with solar cells,
providing subsidies has been the commercial catalyst
needed to get Osaka Gas, Tokyo Gas, Tokyo Electric Power
Company, Sanyo, Matsushita, Ebara, Toshiba and a plethora
of other huge companies to jump on the bandwagon. As a
result, and with cheap units such as those from Toto now
just coming available, the domestic market for cogenerator
fuel cells is forecast to increase to several billion
dollars for domestic customers within the next 3-5 years.

Perhaps better still, under the Kyoto Protocol, Japan is
supposed to cut its CO2 emissions from FY2008-FY2012 by
6% to 1990 levels. Instead, domestic energy emissions have
actually increased by 30%. Thus, being able to cut domestic
carbon emissions by 40% by installing fuel cells, there is
a very real financial incentive for the Japanese government
and industry to make fuel cells a "must-have" item in the

We think this is one industry that has a bright future, and
where Japan can lead the way in terms of production and

...The information janitors/


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+++ NEWS

- Artificial skin starts selling in Europe
- Lehman to sue Marubeni over fraud
- Jobless rate increases
- Icon rumored to be leaving DoCoMo
- Low cholesterol kills more

-> Artificial skin starts selling in Europe

Gunze, the underwear company, has a profitable new sideline
about to kick in -- selling its Pelnac artificial skin
product to hospitals in Europe. Pelnac is a collagen sponge
topped with protective silicone rubber, which can be
applied to the wounds of burn victims and bed sore
sufferers to provide temporary relief and promote faster
regrowth of the victim's own skin. Using Pelnac creates
less physical trauma than implementing immediate full skin
grafts. (Source: TT commentary from, Mar 31,

-> Lehman to sue Marubeni over fraud

In a move sure to damage its business relations in Japan
for years to come, Lehman Brothers has decided that it will
sue trading house Marubeni over the actions of two of the
trading company's rogue employees who perpetrated a US$350m
fraud on Lehman and several other banks. Apparently the
Marubeni executives conspired with executives in a
now-bankrupt subsidiary of LTT Bio-Pharma to fake Marubeni
loan guarantees securing a massive Lehman loan. The
executives have been fired, and Marubeni is saying that it
is also a victim of the fraud and as such the company is
not responsible for the actions of the individuals
involved. ***Ed: Our gut feeling on this is that Lehman has
a case, but the elements of responsibility are sufficiently
vague in Japan that they may never get to see their money
again.** (Source: TT commentary from, Mar 30, 2008)

-> Jobless rate increases

The Ministry of of Public Management has announced that the
nation's jobless rate increased 0.1% in February, from 3.8%
to 3.9%. While this may not sound like a lot, it represents
around 60,000 people, however, it possibly represents a return
to the 4% rate in place in Q3 of last year. Further, and
perhaps more worrying, is the news from the Ministry of
Internal Affairs and Communications that inflation as
measured by the nation's CPI excluding fresh food, rose 1%
in February. Most of the rise came from increased prices
for imported oil and commodities. (Source: TT commentary
from, Mar 29, 2008)

-> Icon rumored to be leaving DoCoMo

The iconic architect of NTT DoCoMo's hit i-Mode service,
Takeshi Natsuno, is rumored to be leaving DoCoMo in April
to take a up position in the mobile content industry.
Natsuno has been with DoCoMo since 1997, and built up the
i-Mode service into a huge business with 48m subscribers,
and a plethora of services that have led the world in
terms of innovation. Of late, however, DoCoMo and i-Mode
have been faltering, and subscriber sign-ups have slowed.
(Source: TT commentary from, Mar 28, 2008)

-> Low cholesterol kills more

Just when you thought you had the whole diet/health thing
figured out, Japanese researchers have announced findings
that people with low blood cholesterol levels have higher
death rates. Although they don't die of heart attacks, the
study of 173,500 Japanese men and women found that the
subjects died more frequently of cancer, infectious
diseases, and suicide -- the men had a 60% higher mortality
rate and the women 41% higher. ***Ed: What should be
concerning to the drug companies is the fact that the
researchers reckoned that apart from heart disease victims,
the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs is unnecessary.**
(Source: TT commentary from, Mar 30, 2008)

NOTE: Broken links
Many online news sources remove their articles after just a
few days of posting them, thus breaking our links -- we
apologize for the inconvenience.


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Featuring two performers: Chan Chan (Latin & Cuban Rhythms)
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