Battery deal sought with EU

by Shigeru Sato and Yuji Okada


Japan will seek an agreement with the European Union to jointly develop solar cells and new ultralight batteries for electric cars that can deliver three times the power of current technology, a Japanese official said Thursday, prior to a meeting that began Friday.

The trade ministry’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy aims to sign an accord Saturday with the EU to pioneer the next-generation rechargeable batteries and photovoltaic cells, Ryo Nasu, the agency’s deputy director for energy strategy, said Thursday.

About 100 officials and experts from both sides began talks in Tokyo on Friday.

The development of electric cars has been held back by heavy batteries that limit their range. Germany’s Daimler AG, the world’s second-largest maker of luxury autos, has said energy storage is “at the very heart” of running cars on power rather than gasoline and has invested in making lighter lithium-ion battery cells.

“This tieup would be aimed at making these advanced technologies commercially viable by 2030 or later,” Nasu said. “Cooperation in technologies available for the next 10 years may be difficult for Japan and Europe, which now are competing against each other.”

Too-frequent recharging has undercut consumer interest in electric cars and investment needed by automakers to begin moving more people and goods with less greenhouse-gas emissions.

“The development of a battery as durable as 500 km per charge is feasible,” said Yasushi Yamamoto, a spokesman for battery-maker GS Yuasa Corp. “But we need promising demand growth for electric vehicles in the years ahead before embarking on the next-generation product.”

Japan also wants to collaborate with Europe in developing a battery that can power an electric vehicle as long as 500 km on one charge, Nasu said. Conventional batteries can last up to about 150 km per charge. Technologies that can be commercially viable by 2030 must be studied, he said.

EU officials participating in the talks in Tokyo couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Sharp Corp. and GS Yuasa are among solar-power cell and battery makers that may benefit if a cooperation agreement is clinched by the two governments. Japan and the EU have pledged to boost use of alternative energy and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, blamed for global warming. If they fail, they face penalties under the 1997 Kyoto climate-protection treaty.

“Governments shouldn’t spend too much time on research and discussion at the table, but they must get the private sector swiftly involved and make these technologies economically viable,” said Mitsushige Akino, who oversees about $615 million at Tokyo-based Ichiyoshi Investment Management Co. in Tokyo. “Japanese battery and solar cell makers will then be able to move ahead with their future projects.”

Stuttgart-based Daimler bought 49.9 percent stake in Li-Tec Vermoegensverwaltung GmbH, a developer of lithium-ion battery cells, which are lighter and more powerful than traditional nickel-hydride power packs.

Raffaele Liberali, director for energy at the European Commission’s scientific research bureau, and Kazuhiko Hombu, director general of Japan’s Agency of Natural Resources and Energy, will cochair the two-day meeting in Tokyo. The two governments will pick the advanced clean-energy technologies for a joint development after discussion.

A venture led by GS Yuasa plans to start supplying lithium-ion batteries in April to Mitsubishi Motors Corp. with its initial target sales of 2,000 units annually, spokesman Yamamoto said from Kyoto Thursday. The battery is capable of driving an electric vehicle as far as 160 km.

Conventional solar panel cells are able to convert 16.5 percent of energy from the sun into electricity, according to Kyocera Corp., the world’s fourth-largest cell producer.

The trade ministry has previously said it sought development of a new cell with a solar-to-electricity conversion ratio of more than 40 percent by 2030.

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