Interview with LIBTEC President Akira Yoshino, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Part 2: Relationship between LIBTEC and DNP unknown to many

Above: Akira Yoshino, president of the Consortium for Lithium Ion Battery Technology and Evaluation Center (LIBTEC) and winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2019, with Tsubasa Kagata of Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd. (DNP)’s Research and Development Center, then-assigned to LIBTEC. The photo was taken at a special moment: the reason why will be revealed toward the end of this article. In Part 1 of this interview, the Editorial Department of the DNP Features section asked Yoshino about how lithium ion batteries can solve environmental problems and their potential for the future. In Part 2, we asked Yoshino about LIBTEC’s research on all-solid-state batteries and his impression of DNP, which has maintained a working relationship with LIBTEC.

  • "All-Japan" effort to develop next-generation battery
  • People power strengthens collaboration transcending companies and industries
  • Versatile personnel a DNP hallmark

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"All-Japan" effort to develop next-generation battery

Q: What is the next-generation all-solid-state battery you are researching and developing?

Yoshino: Conventional batteries use liquid electrolyte, so evaporation, decomposition and leakage all present challenges.

All-solid-state batteries, on the other hand, use solid electrolytes which don’t leak, so are much safer. They also promise to improve durability. With the proliferation of electric vehicles (EVs), many institutions across the world are keenly engaged in all-solid-state battery development. LIBTEC is no exception.

All-solid-state battery prototypes

Q: Tell us about LIBTEC.

Yoshino: It was originally established in Osaka in April 2010 as a research consortium of mainly domestic materials companies involved in the development of lithium ion batteries and their components. DNP is one of the member companies.

The organization started with the aim of evaluating materials developed by each company, as it is difficult for a single company to research and develop batteries alone.

We have analyzed and evaluated the properties and safety of lithium ion batteries made with materials each company provided. Based on the results, we have provided consulting to the companies.

At present, the consortium has 29 member entities, including makers of automobiles, storage batteries and materials, and process manufacturers. The all-solid-state battery project was launched in 2018 with 24 members.

We are trying to establish key technologies to remove the stumbling blocks to its development. In addition, we are developing a technology to evaluate the properties of new materials and processes for mass production by using a prototype battery cell, as well as technology to evaluate their compatibility when mounted on EVs.

We have invited universities and other research institutions to join us. They include Kyoto University, Osaka University and Yokohama National University, each of which is working on publicly subsidized projects. Indeed, we are tackling the development of all-solid-state-batteries with an "All-Japan" effort.

People power strengthens collaboration transcending companies and industries

Q: What are merits of conducting research at LIBTEC?

Yoshino: Technology for bringing all-solid-state batteries into practical use has yet to be established. To complete the technology, we have to join forces with other institutions.

However, there are areas in which members are rivals. So, we push ahead with research in areas where we can cooperate and let companies engage in free competition in others.

LIBTEC provides a precious venue where automakers, storage battery makers and materials makers and process manufacturers, or all the players in the supply chain, can cooperate with each other.

I myself was able to achieve much in the research and development of lithium ion batteries by using machines and technologies that others had developed.

As a byproduct of the collaboration, personnel networks have been built. Researchers who each member dispatches to LIBTEC for a two-year stint have developed strong bonds, allowing them to conduct deeper and more substantive collaboration to tackle future challenges. I am looking forward to seeing their results 10 or 20 years from now.

Q: When and how did you first team up with DNP?

Yoshino: Before LIBTEC’s establishment, Masataka Okushita, a researcher at DNP’s packaging division came up to me, saying he wanted to work on packaging for lithium ion batteries. That was my first association with DNP. Thanks to his efforts, we were able to make a pouch for the lithium ion batteries of today.

Mr. Okushita told me how DNP applied or improved its technologies to tackle new challenges. DNP has a rich record of harnessing new materials and technologies to make easy-to-use packages for food and other items which are suitable for long-term storage and transportation. For example, it has a laminated-pouch technology for boil-in-the-bag food, including curry, that requires the strength to endure sterilization under high temperatures and pressures as well as durability in low or high temperatures for long life. Tackling as daunting a task as developing a lithium ion battery pouch demonstrated how robust DNP’s challenging spirit is.

Versatile personnel a DNP hallmark

Q: DNP joined LIBTEC from the beginning, didn’t it?

Yoshino: Yes. DNP dispatched sincere and reliable researchers like Masayasu Yamazaki and Tsubasa Kagata to LIBTEC. For example, Mr. Yamazaki created a technology to thrust an electrode into a particle to allow it to charge and discharge electricity from it while at LIBTEC. Thanks to his breakthrough, we are able to fully take advantage of the properties of a particle for the battery.

It seems that DNP strikes a delicate balance for being both materials makers and process manufacturers. I have the impression that its employees are versatile and able to link customers’ needs and their seeds of ideas which have potential for practical use.

Q: Is there any project you want to take on with DNP?

Yoshino: I would like to establish a testing method to ensure the long-term safety of laminated seals. If they are used for EVs, they have to be safe to use for 10 or 20 years. Currently there is no testing method to guarantee their safety. I have high expectations of DNP in this regard.

Comments from two employees who worked with President Yoshino

Masayasu Yamazaki of Research and Development Center (dispatched to LIBTEC from August 2010 to March 2015)

I was thrilled to learn about batteries from the inventor of the lithium ion battery. I was involved in a NEDO (New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization) project, introducing a new evaluation method for battery materials. Sometimes, President Yoshino directly instructed me. I was really excited when he won the 2019 Nobel Prize because he had been a Nobel candidate since I first arrived in LIBTEC. I am committed to contributing to DNP’s research and development efforts towards the advancement of lithium ion batteries, demand for which will definitely become broader in scope.

Tsubasa Kagata of Research and Development Center (assigned to LIBTEC from August 2016 and September 2019)

President Yoshino is very friendly, listening to us sincerely and understanding where we’re coming from. When the Nobel laureates in Chemistry were announced, we viewed the live stream together at LIBTEC. The moment his name was read out together with other recipients, we whooped with joy. Later, we received a barrage of phone calls from the media requesting interviews with him. Earlier in the day, we asked for a photo with him, and he agreed willingly despite his busy morning.

***

The photo of President Yoshino and Kagata at the top of this page was taken on the morning of October 9, 2019, the last day of Kagata’s LIBTEC stint. The date coincidentally fell on the day when his Nobel Prize accolade was announced. Later that day, he left for Tokyo to attend a press conference wearing the same shirt and tie as that morning.

President Yoshino speaks at the press conference upon the announcement of his Nobel Prize win. (Photo by courtesy of Kyodo News)

Notes after finishing the interview with President Yoshino

President Yoshino’s achievements in lithium ion battery development will contribute to some of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030.

They are Goal 7 (Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all); Goal 9 (Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation); and Goal 13 (Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts).

DNP is committed to helping energy-related industries grow and solve environmental issues by continuing its collaboration with LIBTEC in developing the next-generation all-solid-state battery.

Click here to enter the Part 1:
Interview with LIBTEC President Akira Yoshino, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Part 1: Will lithium ion batteries help solve the climate crisis?

  • * Publication date: April 13, 2020
  • * Please note that the posted information is as of the date of publication.
  • * LIBTEC: Consortium for Lithium Ion Battery Technology and Evaluation Center