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EV supply chain: Japan, China vie for power in lithium standards

  • July 1, 2022
  • , Nikkei Asia , 4:15 a.m.
  • English Press

TAKUMA NAGAMORI, Nikkei staff writer

 

TOKYO — A group of roughly 100 Japanese companies including Toyota Motor and Hitachi will seek a bigger voice in lithium, a vital part of electric-vehicle batteries and an area where China’s influence has grown.

 

Representatives from over 15 countries, including Japan and China, are expected to meet around September to discuss International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards for the battery material. 

 

Japan’s Battery Association for Supply Chain said Thursday that it will take part in the conference. The association will consider preparing a Japanese proposal for standards at the event.

 

The stakes are high. Lithium is one of the most crucial inputs in the EV supply chain. China, home to some of the world’s biggest EV battery makers, has staked out a leading position in the standardization debate.

 

The conference is part of an effort to agree on standards for measuring the purity of lithium used in batteries, as well as for methods for transporting and analyzing the material. ISO certification helps demonstrate a product’s quality to customers. 

 

In 2020, the ISO approved a Chinese proposal to establish a technical committee for lithium standards. China now chairs this panel, and some members of the Japanese association worry the Chinese will seek to advance standards that benefit their country’s battery industry.

 

One potential impact is on makers of cathode materials. Japanese suppliers tout the safety of their cathode materials that contain cobalt — an expensive additive — and other metals. Meanwhile, China is a major producer of low-cost, cobalt-free cathode materials.

 

Battery Association for Supply Chain Chairman Isao Abe speaks at a news conference on June 30. (Photo by Takuma Nagamori)
 

Standards could affect the industry in other ways. A requirement to use Chinese equipment to analyze lithium would force many Japanese materials makers to purchase new machines, adding to costs.

Japan and China are not the only players with skin in the game.

 

“The standardization debate has expanded to recycling and other topics, and the U.S. and Europe are increasingly interested” in standards that would benefit them, said Isao Abe, the Japanese battery association chair and adviser for Sumitomo Metal Mining. “We need to keep a close eye on the widening discussions.”

 

The battery association on Thursday also announced plans to request 3.6 trillion yen ($26.5 billion) in government subsidies as early as this fiscal year. With state aid, it aims to acquire mining stakes for rare metals and to develop recycling infrastructure, strengthening its ability to source these materials amid growing global demand.

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