Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. will start to manufacture lithium-ion batteries

MHI to Enter Lithium-ion Secondary Battery Business With Launch of Commercial Production Verification Plant by Fall 2010

Companywide Initiative to Contribute to Realization of Energy-saving Society

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. (MHI) has decided to build a commercial production verification plant in Nagasaki Prefecture and launch its operation by autumn 2010 in a move toward the company’s full-scale entry into the lithium-ion secondary battery market. The new plant, to be built within the company’s Nagasaki Shipyard & Machinery Works, will have a production capacity of 66 MWh (megawatt hours) of batteries a year, which is equivalent to 400,000 medium-size cells. The batteries were developed in a 20-year-long joint research and development project with Kyushu Electric Power Co., Inc.

To date MHI has supplied the batteries for sample use, but now it has opted to place them on the market. The company looks to promote lithium-ion secondary battery business through a companywide initiative and will begin by incorporating the batteries into its various products, such as forklift trucks and wind turbine power generation systems. In conjunction with this initiative, MHI will launch a new Joint Lithium Battery Operations Department effective October 1st.

MHI and Kyushu Electric Power launched joint research and development into large-size batteries for electric power storage in 1988, and successfully developed compact batteries capable of supplying substantial power over long periods. Those batteries are a medium-size cell with energy capacity of 165 Wh (watt-hours), mainly used in vehicles, and a large-size stationary-use battery cell with 350 Wh.

The commercial production verification plant, slated for construction startup this fall, will utilize technologies from MHI’s diversified business areas, including technologies related to slurry preparation, coating, and mass-production management knowhow from turbocharger production. The plant will serve to verify and improve factors essential for commercial production, such as verification of operation rates, tact time, battery performance and cost target. MHI’s lithium-ion secondary battery business plan calls for the construction of another full-scale commercial plant once all-out entry into the business is decided. The company will make its decision in 2011 taking the market situation, future prospects, and verification results into account.

The new Joint Lithium Battery Operations Department will encompass staff members from the Power Systems Headquarters and the General Machinery & Special Vehicle Headquarters and will be charged with integrally advancing product planning and commercialization. Technical Headquarters, the Production System Innovation Planning Department and the Sustainability Energy & Environment Strategic Planning Department will also provide support.

Besides producing the new batteries, MHI aims, by leveraging its abundant system development know-how, to enhance their value by incorporating them into the company’s final products and systems. Specifically, for vehicle applications MHI will mount the batteries on its newly developing hybrid forklift trucks. The company also plans to provide its lithium-ion secondary batteries to affiliated companies and to supply them to other companies for installation in their products as a power train. For stationary use, MHI will incorporate the batteries as electric power storage units enabling stabilization of electricity supply from renewable energy grid systems, such as wind power and photovoltaic power generation. It also will consider, together with Kyushu Electric Power, applications in the emergency power source systems of the electricity providers, as well as an environmental-friendly independent power source at work site and a power source for micro electricity grids on remote islands.

Demand for lithium-ion secondary batteries, which boast superior power storage capability, is expected to increase sharply from 2010 in tandem with further strengthening of environmental regulations. Domestic battery manufacturers will increase their production, expecting demands largely coming from applications in hybrid cars and electric vehicles initially. MHI, as a comprehensive manufacturer of energy-related machinery, looks to further contribute to the establishment of an energy-saving society by focusing on electric power storage, particularly for industrial applications, in addition to further enhancing its existing systems in areas such as high-efficiency power generation and renewable energy utilization.

Birth of Industry to Recycle Lithium Auto Batteries

As automakers race toward bringing hybrid and electric cars into the mainstream, environmentalists worry about the ability to properly recycle the batteries that power those cars. Most industry analysts believe that we are a decade or more away from needing to recycle nickel or lithium auto batteries in significant volumes. Yet, the first lithium battery recycling plants are already being established.

Nikkei reported yesterday that Japan’s Nippon Mining & Metals Co. and GS Yuasa Corp. each plan to start collecting lithium ion batteries from scrapped electric and hybrid vehicles in order to recycle their lithium. Nippon developed technology that extracts lithium from the batteries, and plans to have its trial plant running as early as 2011. GS Yuasa, a major producer of automotive batteries, will begin collecting used lithium ion batteries from automakers in a few years to further develop its process of recycling based on how much lithium is used in different parts of the batteries.

Last month, the US Department of Energy granted $9.5 million to California-based Toxco to build America’s first recycling facility for lithium ion vehicle batteries. Today’s hybrids use nickel metal hydride batteries, but within a few years, automakers are expected to shift to lithium batteries for hybrids and plug-in cars. Lithium ion batteries can be lighter and smaller, while carrying more energy and providing more power.

Toxco is North America’s leading battery recycler and has been recycling single-charge and rechargeable lithium batteries found in electronics devices and industrial applications since 1992 at its Canadian facility in Trail, British Columbia. The company uses a detailed process involving freezing, crushing, dismantling, and purification via electrodialysis. The DOE grant will help Toxco transfer the Trail recycling process to its Ohio operations, laying the foundation for an advanced lithium battery recycling plant that can expand to meet expected rapid growth in the US electric car market.

To recycle the current generation of nickel-based hybrid batteries, carmakers dismantle every ounce and scrap of the battery, from the precious metals to the plastic, plates, steel case and the wiring, to make sure the materials are processed for disposal. Carmakers offer a bounty to help ensure the battery is returned to a dealership and properly recycled.
Battery Economics

There is currently little economic need to recycle lithium ion batteries. Most batteries contain small amounts of lithium carbonate as a percentage of weight and the material is relatively inexpensive compared to most other metals, such as nickel and cobalt. As lithium battery packs become larger—and the number of hybrids and electric cars that use lithium batters expands—recycling will become more important and more profitable. Mainstream vehicles will have to begin using lithium ion batteries and run those batteries for at least several years before recycling becomes an issue.

Bolivia has the world’s largest supply of lithium—about 5.4 million tons in the Uyuni Desert alone. Chile has about 3 million tons and the United States owns about 750,000 tons. Despite media reports to the contrary, current demand for lithium is not likely to cause shortages.

Unlike caustic lead acid car batteries—which fortunately are recycled at rates approaching 99 percent—advanced lithium ion batteries do not use harmful acids or metals, such as lead, to store electrical power. Lithium ion batteries use copper, cobalt, iron and nickel that are considered safe for landfills and incinerators, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.