Firms promote practical items in times of disaster

by Atsushi Kodera

Staff Writer

With the chances of a destructive earthquake hitting the Kanto region in the next 30 years estimated to be 70 percent, disaster preparedness seems to be on the minds of many people.

As they seek safety, and minimum necessities in times of trouble, a number of companies have developed unique products in an attempt to meet their needs.

While a radio is a standard item to have at hand when disaster strikes, it will be useless if the batteries are dead.

Long-life batteries are recommended, and preferably light-weight ones, so that several can be carried at the same time.

Aqua Power System Japan’s Nopopo batteries kill two birds with one stone with a high-tech twist. The “water battery,” available in AA size, comes to life when water is injected through a tiny hole made next to the metal cap of the positive terminal, providing 1.5 volts of electricity just like regular dry cell batteries.

Any liquid containing water works, says the company, including liquor, beer, cola, coffee and, in a pinch, saliva or even urine, and it can be repeatedly used by replacing the liquid.

The company claims the battery can be stored dry for close to 20 years and still be activated with water.

That compares with a maximum 10 years of unused life for dry cells by Hitachi Maxell Ltd. and Panasonic Corp. And the Nopopo battery weighs about 15 grams, about 35 percent less than an AA zinc-carbon battery.

In addition, the product does not include harmful substances, “so even if someone threw them down on the ground in a disaster situation, because harmful waste will likely not be collected and treated separately, they won’t contaminate the soil,” said Yoshiaki Hasebe, development chief at Aqua Power System Japan.

According to Hasebe, the company developed Nopopo, which stands for no pollution power, “because we were concerned about the large quantities of (harmful) dry batteries that are thrown out, and wanted to create more environmentally friendly products.”

New technology has also provided an option for people who need to evacuate quickly after an earthquake and tsunami, such as in March 11, 2011.

The Save Capsule, which is 1.2 meters in diameter and made of fiberglass-reinforced plastic, has a windowed hatch and a short stump-like base that stabilizes it when not in use. The capsule floats on the surface of the tsunami, while at the same time protecting up to four people inside its watertight shell. Inside, all surfaces have soft padding, and a vertical reinforcing center pillar doubles as a grab bar that occupants can cling to as the capsule is tossed around on top of the waves.

“There are now lots of rip-offs of our product, but ours is the original,” said Hiromi Yanagawa, president of Save, a Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, company that developed the floating shelter.

The product proved to withstand pressure of 9.4 tons at a government testing facility, Yanagawa added.

At ¥750,000 excluding consumption tax, the capsule is not a cheap solution, but Izu Shelter, a Save Capsule dealer in Nishi Izu, Shizuoka Prefecture, said that compared to anti-tsunami sea walls and tsunami evacuation structures, which can cost millions of yen, the shelter was a realistic option, especially for such places as kindergartens, nursing and day-care centers.

Save has sold nearly 150 units since its launch four years ago to customers in areas including Shizuoka Prefecture, Shikoku, Nagoya and Osaka.

And there is another essential item: water.

Water in canisters, containers or bottles takes up space, is heavy to carry for any length of time, and needs to be replaced periodically to keep it from becoming contaminated.

Katano, Osaka Prefecture-based company Toyo Giken Co. approached the issue from the opposite angle and created a portable device that filters available water to make it drinkable.

Mizu-Q, a 14-cm-long tubular filter used like a straw, comes with a sterilizing powder added to the water to eradicate germs and is priced at ¥2,484 excluding tax.

The product can create the equivalent of about 500 glasses of drinking water from sources such as rivers, ponds or lakes, the company said.