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EU, Japan may study advanced solar cells

Shigeru Sato & Yuji Okada  |  Tokyo 

TECH: Electric car development has been held back by heavy batteries that limit driving range

Japanese and European Union officials are in talks to jointly develop advanced solar cells and rechargeable batteries for electric cars to help nations reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

About 100 officials and experts from both sides were invited to Tokyo for meetings, said Ryo Nasu, the agency’s deputy director for energy strategy, in an interview.

Electric car development has been held back by heavy batteries that limit driving range. Germany’s Daimler AG, the second-largest maker of luxury autos, has said energy storage is “at the very heart” of running cars on power rather than gasoline and invested in making lighter lithium-ion batteries.

“This tie-up would be aimed at making these advanced technologies commercially viable by 2030 or later,” Nasu said. “Cooperation in technologies available for the next 10 years may be difficult for Japan and Europe, which now are competing against each other.”

Too-frequent recharging has undercut consumer interest in electric cars and curtailed investment by automakers to begin moving more people and goods with less greenhouse-gas emissions.

“Global challenges call for global responses,” said Catherine Ray, spokeswoman for the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm. “Science has no borders. The collaboration of ‘best brains’ is key for the development of state-of-art research.”

Developing a battery that can power an electric vehicle 500 kilometers (311 miles) on a single charging is feasible, said Yasushi Yamamoto, a spokesman for Japanese battery-maker GS Yuasa Corp. “But we need promising demand growth for electric vehicles in the years ahead before embarking on the next-generation product.”

That kind of battery could be pioneered if Japan collaborates with Europe, the trade ministry’s Nasu said. A press briefing is planned tomorrow around 1:30 pm Japan time, Ray said. Conventional batteries can last up to about 150 kilometers per charge.

Sharp Corp and GS Yuasa are among Japanese solar-power cell and battery makers that may benefit if a cooperation agreement is clinched by the two governments. Japan and Europe have pledged to boost use of alternative energy and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, blamed for global warming. If they fail they face penalties under the 1997 Kyoto climate-protection treaty.

“Governments shouldn’t spend too much time on research and discussion at a table, but they must get the private sector swiftly involved and make these technologies economically viable,” said Mitsushige Akino, who oversees about $615 million at Tokyo-based Ichiyoshi Investment Management Co. in Tokyo. “Japanese battery and solar cell makers will then be able to move ahead with their future projects,” Akino said.

— With reporting by Todd White in Madrid. Editors: Amit Prakash, Clyde Russell. ©2009 Bloomberg Service

First Published: Mon, March 09 2009. 00:23 IST