Due to the ongoing crisis of climate change, both Japan and the wider world are rapidly shifting toward electric vehicles (EVs). The demand for lithium-ion batteries (LiB), used as storage batteries in EVs, has increased rapidly, with the market for automotive lithium-ion batteries reaching 6 trillion yen over the past five years. Hitachi High-Tech aims to contribute to a sustainable global environment by providing manufacturing facilities for safe, long-lasting batteries and quality control services to manufacturers that develop and manufacture lithium-ion batteries, contributing to the proliferation of EVs and supporting measures to combat climate change.
Playing a Role in the Development of the Lithium-Ion Battery Industry
In June 2009, Mitsubishi Motors began manufacturing the i-MiEV, the world's first mass-produced EV. Hitachi High-Tech built the manufacturing facilities for the lithium-ion batteries used in the i-MiEV.
"At that time, all we could think about was fixing problems and getting the equipment up-and-running on time. It was the world's first mass-production EV that used lithium-ion batteries, so the battery factory also had to be built from scratch. It was my first time working on a major investment like a new factory. Looking at a completed factory standing on what was previously just a muddy field really made me feel like I was working together with the customer. It was quite a while after that until I saw a completed i-MiEV, and at that point it finally felt like that factory was useful. It was quite an emotional moment,"
recalls Makoto Sato, General Manager, Energy Device Solution Dept. in the Hitachi High-Tech Industrial Solution Business Group.
Hitachi High-Tech has worked with automatic assembly equipment for magnetic media since the 1980s. It provided manufacturers with equipment for making magnetic media products such as floppy disks, VHS videotapes, cassette tapes and MDs.
Then in the 1990s, technology rapidly advanced thanks to semiconductors. "Senior members of my team predicted at that time that the development of semiconductors would lead to the decline of magnetic media, and that batteries would become much more important in the future," says Sato.
At that time, nickel-metal hydride batteries and NiCad batteries were the main batteries in use. Then in 1991, Sony introduced the world's first lithium-ion battery. The mass production of small, high-capacity lithium-ion batteries has led to development of smaller and thinner electronic devices such as video cameras, laptop computers and smartphones.
"I wanted to help develop society by working on lithium-ion batteries. I also wanted to provide the ease and convenience that people were looking for. We were contacted by Sony, our business partner in magnetic media, and started working on the first-ever equipment for manufacturing lithium-ion batteries. That was in the early 1990s. There are a lot of processes involved in the manufacture of batteries, and our technologies have become an indispensable part of these processes," states Sato.
Supporting the Production of LiB Batteries to Help Combat Climate Change
Since the adoption of the Paris Agreement in December 2015, countries have been working toward decarbonization due to the ever-present climate change crisis. The Paris Agreement calls for countries to become carbon neutral by 2050 in order to limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5°C higher than level before the industrial revolution.
Amidst this trend, the shift toward electric vehicles is also progressing following the announcement of policies regulating gasoline vehicles in various parts of the world, including Japan. As a result, demand for lithium-ion batteries is increasing further.
Hitachi High-Tech provides cutting-edge solutions for everything from lithium-ion battery manufacturing facilities to materials across all areas of the value chain, including research and development (R&D), manufacturing and quality control.
"Through supporting the production of lithium-ion batteries, we will promote the spread of EVs and contribute to the decarbonization of society as a whole. We also support the creation of safer, longer-lasting batteries by taking advantage of our observation, measurement and analysis technologies," explains Sato.
He follows up, saying "Any foreign objects inside the battery could cause the battery to catch fire in the future, or affect its performance, resulting in an EV that doesn't last very long. Each EV uses anywhere from hundreds to thousands of batteries, so by increasing the quality of each one, we believe that we can achieve manufacturing processes that don't waste resources and have a reduced overall environmental impact."
A Total Solution Reduces Environmental Impact
EVs are expected to be a key factor in decarbonization due to their low CO2 emissions, but a large amount of electricity is required to produce lithium-ion batteries.
Hiroya Aiuchi, Deputy General Manager, Energy Device Solution Dept. in the Hitachi High-Tech Industrial Solution Business Group, says "We should be creating products that are good for the environment, but we are actually putting a lot of strain on it. The specifications from some of our European customers include questions like 'How will we reduce the power consumption of our equipment in the future?' We take these issues seriously and work with our customers to create low-carbon products that do not emit CO2, so we're not simply pushing the problem onto the next generation."
Hitachi High-Tech will produce high-quality batteries with a reduced environmental impact, alongside promoting the reuse of batteries to contribute to creating a circular economy.
Hitachi High-Tech has developed a Rapid Diagnostics of Battery Degradation Method for lithium-ion batteries that instantly visualizes the remaining battery performance. This means that even when a battery is no longer suitable for use in an EV, it can be reused for other applications, such as a power supply for a forklift or a golf cart. This means the total lifespan of the battery can be utilized.
Hitachi High-Tech is also actively developing and manufacturing solid-state batteries, expected to be the next generation of battery technology.
"As we want to use these batteries in flying vehicles as well as cars, we need to make the batteries lighter, and the expectations for the next generation of batteries keep growing. In order to further promote decarbonization, we will focus on the development of prototyping and mass-production facilities for next-generation batteries," says Sato.