Japan must be more competitive in field essential for decarbonization

To realize a decarbonized society, the spread of electric vehicles (EVs) is essential. To that end, high-performance storage batteries are also essential.

The public and private sectors must work together to once again enhance the international competitiveness of Japan’s storage battery industry.

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has compiled an industrial strategy for storage batteries. The ministry set a goal of increasing the manufacturing capacity of Japanese makers to 600 gigawatt-hours in 2030. That is more than 20 times the capacity that existed in 2020, and is equivalent to 14.4 million standard EV batteries, according to the ministry.

To achieve the goal, the ministry intends to foster 30,000 engineers and other personnel through industry-academia-government collaboration. The ministry also said it would increase subsidies to encourage private investment in this regard.

Lithium-ion batteries for EVs were originally an area of specialty for Japan. Its global market share reached about 50% in 2015.

However, as Chinese and South Korean manufacturers boosted their technological prowess with support from their governments, Japanese manufacturers’ share fell to around 20% in 2020. The Japanese government must speed up the implementation of the strategy to recover lost ground.

In the past, Japanese companies also once dominated the global market for semiconductors and liquid crystal panels, but they were overtaken by Taiwanese, Chinese and South Korean companies. Regarding storage batteries, the Japanese government should draw on lessons learned from past experiences to avoid repeating the same mistake.

The automobile industry has been working on the transition to EVs. The key to competitiveness is storage batteries, a core component. Improving the quality and stable procurement of batteries will be a major challenge.

Toyota Motor Corp. said it will invest up to ¥730 billion in battery production in Japan and the United States. Nissan Motor Co. plans to buy a Japanese battery maker.

It is hoped that automakers in the nation will strive to make active investments, in keeping with the government’s policy of making storage batteries a key area.

Improving storage battery technology is also essential for the expansion of renewable energy. Solar and other renewable energy sources generate different amounts of electricity depending on the weather, and thermal power generation is used to make up the shortfall.

If power can be stored in high-capacity storage batteries, there will be a lot more room to make use of renewable energy.

European nations, the United States, China and South Korea are also stepping up policy support for the storage battery industry, and competition is expected to intensify among these countries.

However, resources such as lithium and nickel, needed to make storage batteries, are produced in limited quantities. It is inevitable that there will be fierce competition for these resources, whose producers are disproportionately located in a few countries, including Chile, Australia and Indonesia.

Stable procurement of materials for storage batteries is also important from the perspective of economic security. It is hoped that the Japanese government will not only take the lead in securing suppliers, but also will encourage the industry to develop alternative materials.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 14, 2022)