TOKYO – Manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries here are moving full speed ahead with investments in new production facilities.

By early 2011, they will have capacity to produce more than 40 million cells annually, enough to make an estimated 300,000 electric cars and hybrids, based on a roughly 50:50 split between the two vehicle types.

Following is a primer on Japan’s Li-ion battery players and their investment plans.

GS Yuasa-MMC

GS Yuasa Corp. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. opened a joint-venture plant in June 2009 in Kusatsu.

With two expansions – one in Kusatsu in June 2010 and a second planned for December at GS Yuasa’s Kyoto plant – production now stands at 1.6 million cells annually.

This volume will support 17,800 Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Peugeot iOn and Citroen C-Zero electric vehicles. European sales of the three models are scheduled to get under way in December.

The JV, Lithium Energy Japan, now is building a new plant, in Ritto, east of Kyoto, that can make 4.4 million cells for another 50,000 cars.

When the Ritto plant is up and running in early 2012, combined capacity will grow to 6 million cells for 67,800 battery packs, each with 16-kWh capacity.

Cumulative investment, including the ¥37.5 billion ($441 million) earmarked for the new Ritto facility, totals ¥51.7 billion ($608 million).

AESC

Automotive Energy Supply Corp., a JV between Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. and NEC Corp., also opened in June 2009 with a ¥12 billion ($140 million) line inside Nissan’s old manufacturing complex in Zama, west of Tokyo.

The line will produce as many as 1 million cells monthly for both hybrid and electric cars when fully operational next year. That comes to 65,000 Nissan Leaf EVs and Fuga Hybrids, along with an unspecified number of Renault EVs, including the Kangoo Express Z.E., Fluence Z.E. and, probably, Twizy.

To support the operation, NEC Tokin Corp., an NEC subsidiary, invested ¥11 billion ($129 million) to set up a lithium-manganese electrode line at its Sagamihara plant.

By late 2012, Nissan and NEC plan to expand lithium-battery production outside Japan with manufacturing lines in the U.S., U.K. and Portugal. Including planned capacity in France by partner Renault SA, the total will approach 90 million cells annually for an estimated 500,000 EVs and hybrids.

Hitachi

In October 2009, Hitachi Vehicle Energy Ltd., a subsidiary of electronics giant Hitachi Ltd., opened a new 300,000 cell/month line in Hitachinaka to produce third-generation batteries with power density of 3 kW/kg.

The plant’s second-generation line, in operation since 2004, can produce 40,000 cells per month, raising combined monthly capacity to 340,000 cells.

The supplier’s second-generation battery, with power density of 2.6 kW/kg, has been adopted by Isuzu Motors Ltd. for its Elf Diesel Hybrid and Mitsubishi Fuso Truck & Bus Corp. for the Canter Eco Hybrid truck and Aerostar Eco Hybrid Bus.

It also finds use in hybrid delivery trucks sold through Eaton Corp. and operated by United Parcel Service Inc. and FedEx Corp.

More recently, the supplier’s Li-ion batteries have been selected by General Motors Co. for its new mild hybrid powertrain due in 2011.

Hitachi Automotive Systems Ltd., which handles distribution for the battery company, hopes to realize Li-ion battery sales of ¥100 billion ($1.2 billion) by fiscal 2015.

Japanese Li-ion Cell Capacity
(in millions)
Company Plant Annual Capacity
GS Yuasa/Mitsubishi Kusatsu/Kyoto 1.6*
NEC/Nissan Zama 12.5
Hitachi Hitachinaka 4.1
PEVE/Toyota Teiho NA
Panasonic Suminoe NA**
Sanyo/Panasonic Kosai 12
GS Yuasa/Honda Osando 2.8***
Toshiba Kashiwazaki 6
*Addition of Ritta plant will increase capacity to 6 million cells. **Panasonic eventually plans capacity of 300 million cells. ***Estimated.

The company says it has made a cumulative investment of ¥15 billion ($176 million) at its Hitachinaka plant.

Primearth

During a 6-month period ending in May, Primearth EV Energy Co. Ltd., Toyota Motor Corp.’s battery-making subsidiary, produced an estimated 100,000 Li-ion cells inside the auto maker’s Teiho plant for 600 Prius Plug-In Hybrid cars currently being test-marketed in Japan, Europe and the U.S.

No details of the line’s capacity or investment cost have been disclosed.

The Prius Plug-In’s 5.2-kW battery pack is comprised of 28 modules and 168 cells, thus six cells per module.

For nearly a decade, PEVE has supplied 60-100 mini-lithium battery packs to Toyota for the stop/start system on the Vitz and Yaris. Each 3.6-volt cell, placed in a 4-cell configuration, claims power density of 2.25 kW/kg.

Panasonic

In April, Panasonic Energy Co. Ltd., the battery-manufacturing division of Panasonic Corp., began Li-ion cell production at a new ¥100 billion ($1.2 billion) plant in the Suminoe section of Osaka, where six months earlier the unit started electrode production.

The new plant, with initial capacity of 10 million cells per month, integrates production from electrodes to cell assembly into batteries that will find use in a wide range of products from mobile phones and notebook computers to electric cars. Panasonic offers no details about marketing plans other than to note that it has provided samples to unspecified auto makers.

Cells, currently rated at 3.1 Ah, weigh 1.6 oz. (45 g) each with specific energy of 11.2 Wh and energy density of 675 Wh/L. They employ a cobalt-type positive electrode and carbon-type negative electrode.

In 2011, the supplier will mass-produce a new 3.4-Ah unit weighing 1.6 oz. (46 g) with specific energy and energy density: 12.2 Wh energy and 730 Wh/L. The battery’s positive electrode is an advanced nickel type, while the negative electrode will remain carbon.

Sanyo

In July, Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd., now a subsidiary of Panasonic Corp., opened a ¥13 billion ($153 million) EV battery plant in Kosai with capacity to produce 1 million Li-ion cells per month. By fiscal 2016, Sanyo hopes to boost monthly output to 10 million cells.

Sanyo, the main supplier of nickel-metal-hydride batteries to Honda Motor Co. Ltd., Ford Motor Co. and PSA Peugeot Citroen, reportedly will supply Li-ion batteries to Volkswagen AG, Suzuki Motors Corp. and Toyota, likely to use them in retail versions of the Prius Plug-In.

In May 2010, Sanyo incorporated 8,320 cylindrical batteries into a 50-kWh Li-ion battery pack for Daihatsu Motor Co. Ltd.’s experimental Mira EV, which subsequently set a distance record of 627 miles (1,009 km) without recharging.

Blue Energy

Beginning this autumn, GS Yuasa through a second JV – this one with Honda and called Blue Energy Co. Ltd. – will produce its EH6 Li-ion battery for hybrid vehicles.

No details about production volumes have been announced, although the batteries will be supplied from a ¥25 billion ($294 million) line inside GS Yuasa’s Osando plant. The new Civic Hybrid due out next spring will be the first car to adopt the battery.

Toshiba

Next February, Toshiba Corp. will open a ¥25 billion ($294 million) line in Kashiwazaki to supply Li-ion batteries to Honda for the EV-neo electric scooter scheduled to go on sale this December. Initial capacity is set at 500,000 cells per month.

The supplier, which more than a decade ago withdrew from the automotive battery business, currently operates a small lot line at the site.

Toshiba claims its SCiB battery has achieved more than 6,000 charge-discharge cycles and can perform at temperatures as low as -49° F (-30° C). Each 5.2-oz. (150-g) cell has a nominal voltage of 2.4 volts and capacity of 4.2 Ah.

Toshiba also is working with Keio University and Isuzu to develop a 60-Ah battery for a city bus test program in Kanagawa prefecture and has entered into talks with Mitsubishi, Volkswagen, Fiat Automobiles SpA and Swedish truck maker Scania AB.

The supplier has set a battery sales target of ¥200 billion ($2.4 billion) by fiscal 2015.

In the current fiscal year ending March 31, Toshiba plans to produce 150,000 cells per month, boosting that to 500,000 and 2 million in fiscal 2011 and fiscal 2012, respectively.