By Naomi Tajitsu
NAGOYA, Japan (Reuters)
Facing the eventual demise of gasoline engines, the world’s biggest maker of spark plugs is turning its focus to a component it believes will be just as vital in the coming era of electric vehicles – next-generation all solid state batteries
Japan’s NGK Spark Plug Co has for years leveraged its expertise in ceramics technology used in spark plugs to expand into sensors, semiconductors and other products mainly for automobiles.
Now, it sees a future in all solid-state batteries, which experts believe will be safer and more powerful than the lithium-ion batteries currently used in battery electric vehicles (EVs).
After dominating transport for 150 years, the internal combustion engine is facing the end of the road in the coming decades as tightening global emissions regulations force automakers to develop more electric cars.
“We realized that it was inevitable that the industry would at some point shift from the internal combustion engine to battery EVs, and that ultimately this could make our spark plug and oxygen sensor businesses obsolete,” Takio Kojima, senior general manager of engineering and R&D at NGK Spark Plug told Reuters in an interview.
“Our expertise is in advanced ceramics, and so we have decided to pursue all solid-state batteries.”
Established in 1936 and based in Japan’s automaking heartland of Nagoya, NGK Spark Plug’s realization that its main business faced obsolescence came around 2010, Kojima said.
That was the year Nissan Motor Co rolled out the Leaf, the first mass-production all battery EV, and just after Tesla Inc came out with the Roadster, its first production car
Other global parts suppliers are also scrambling to overhaul their product portfolios.
In Japan, Denso Corp has teamed up with Toyota Motor Corp and Mazda Motor Corp to develop battery EVs while transmission maker Aisin Seiki Co is developing hybrid transmission systems and EV-specific, four-wheel-drive units.
In the United States, powertrain products maker Borg Warner has expanded into hybrid and electric car parts, including transmissions and drive modules for electric cars.
Industry experts anticipate plug-in hybrid petrol-electric vehicles and all-battery EVs will account for as much as 26 percent of global car sales by 2030, versus just over 1 percent last year, data from the International Energy Agency shows.
The rise in EV use will require a steep increase in manufacturing capacity for longer-life batteries which are more powerful, lighter and can charge quicker than conventional lithium-ion batteries.
NGK Spark Plug joins Toyota and other companies developing all solid-state car batteries, which offer more capacity and better safety than conventional lithium-ion batteries by replacing their liquid or gel-like electrolyte with a solid, conductive material.
Toyota is developing batteries with sulfide-based solid electrolytes, which offer high conductivity and are relatively flexible but can release toxic hydrogen sulfide when exposed to moisture.
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