The Yomiuri ShimbunCan Japan lead the world in the field of electrified vehicles? The government also needs to make arrangements to support the development of cutting-edge technologies being propelled by the private sector.
An expert panel of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has compiled a long-term strategy for the increased use of environmentally friendly vehicles.
The panel set the goal of having electrified vehicles, such as hybrids and electric models, account for nearly 100 percent of automobiles in the nation by 2050.
The panel aims to reduce the greenhouse gases emitted when vehicles are running by 80 percent per vehicle by 2050 from the 2010 level.
To achieve this target, the panel’s strategy included the early practical application of next-generation batteries and motors, and the development of biofuels that can contribute to measures combatting global warming.
The strategy’s overall direction is reasonable.
The problem lies in the effectiveness of the concrete measures. Steady efforts will be essential to ensure this strategy does not start with a roar and end with a whimper.
Plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles that can be recharged even at home account for only about 1 percent of all vehicles sold in Japan. Electric vehicles have a shorter range than gasoline-powered vehicles, and recharging them also takes time. Their relatively high cost also has been a factor that has hindered their wider use.
The key to resolving these problems is lowering the cost and improving the performance of the batteries, which are essential components of electric vehicles and other next-generation vehicles.
Acquiring resources vital
The panel’s strategy also presented a plan under which Japanese companies would jointly purchase the rare metal cobalt, which is a raw material for mainstream lithium-ion batteries.
Chinese buyers are moving to stockpile cobalt. If this situation is left unaddressed, there are concerns the production of lithium-ion batteries by Japanese companies could be negatively affected.
The government should exercise leadership to secure the Japanese rights and interests overseas.
Various kinds of rare metals are crucial for the manufacture of motors and other components. It might be a good idea to widen the scope of materials that Japanese companies jointly purchase.
The public and private sectors will need to work together to make doubly sure Japanese companies can stably procure the resources they require.
The downsides of lithium-ion batteries are that they can leak and catch fire. The development of next-generation “all-solid-state batteries” made from solid materials is an urgent challenge.
Japanese companies hold 50 percent or more of the patents related to these batteries, but there are many high hurdles to their development, including selecting suitable materials and establishing mass-production methods. If Japan can put these batteries to practical use before the rest of the world does, the possibility of the nation being able to lead this market will grow.
Companies including Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co. and Panasonic Corp. have agreed to jointly develop the basic technologies for all-solid-state batteries. Hopefully, each of these companies will make good use of their research achievements and achieve good results in this project.
Improving and increasing the number of recharging facilities and hydrogen stations is shaping up to be an issue that must be addressed to boost the adoption of electric vehicles and fuel-cell vehicles that run on hydrogen. The government should consider measures to support these efforts, such as by relaxing regulations in this field.