Materials Innovation Push Looks to Make Japan Manufacturing Power again

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
A selection of Toyota automobiles using the company’s hybrid and fuel cell technologies is seen at a dealership in Nagoya in January. Japan has a 100% share of the global market for a condenser that stably drives hybrid motors.

Restoring the nation to its place as a manufacturing powerhouse is the aim of the government’s strategy for strengthening materials innovation, according to a draft of the strategy.

In the draft, the government has set a goal of doubling by 2030 the number of domestic materials that have a global share of at least 60% in areas where demand will increase, such as decarbonization and antiviral materials.

Currently, there are 19 materials in which Japan has a 100% share of the global market, including condensers that stably drive hybrid automobile motors and coating materials that protect semiconductors from heat and shock. There are 70 other materials with a share of at least 60%.

The strategy targets next-generation batteries for electric vehicles to push decarbonization and support for the development of new materials for use in combating infectious diseases.

Japan has long had results from its materials research, such as blue LEDs and lithium-ion batteries for which its scientists have won Nobel Prizes.

In recent years, however, Japan has often been outperformed in price competition with China, South Korea and other countries that have been making large-scale investments. Japan’s development of high-performance materials is also connected to strengthening the nation’s ability to bargain globally.

To realize rapid development, the government will also promote materials informatics making use of artificial intelligence.

The vast amount of experimental data held by universities and other organizations in Japan will be consolidated into a database at the National Institute for Materials Science, in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, and AI will be used to search for new candidate materials with superior functions. The database will be made available to researchers including industrial ones across the country with the goal of full-scale operation by fiscal 2025.