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Japan-Update

Mitsubishi Chemical prepping for electric-vehicle age

Rejiggered production to focus on large lithium-ion batteries

Mitsubishi Chemical may boost domestic electrolyte production as well.   © (Photo courtesy of Mitsubishi Chemical)

TOKYO -- Mitsubishi Chemical plans to restart a U.K. plant, double capacity in the U.S. and shutter a Chinese factory as part of a restructuring of its electrolyte business intended to prepare for the spread of electric vehicles.

Electrolytes are a key material used in lithium-ion batteries. With a 40% market share, the Tokyo-based company is the leader in electrolytes used in vehicle batteries. To enhance its technological capabilities, it plans to stop taking new orders for mobile device batteries -- where inexpensive products are demanded -- and specialize in large batteries such as storage batteries and those for automobiles.

The Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings unit will restart an electrolyte plant in the English town of Stockton-on-Tees in spring 2018. That location will initially ship prototypes with plans to transition to mass production as early as next fall. The plant began producing batteries in 2012 but suspended operations in March 2016 because electric vehicles had not caught on as quickly as anticipated.

In the U.S., the chemical company is planning to invest in expansion. In addition to adding capacity at an existing facility in Tennessee, it is considering construction of a new plant in Nevada depending on a leading electric-vehicle venture's production plans. Productivity may also be improved at the Yokkaichi plant in Japan to enhance capacity there by 2019.

Mitsubishi Chemical and Ube Industries are merging their Chinese electrolyte operations, with a joint venture set to launch in January 2018. Ube's Chinese plant will then be closed and Mitsubishi Chemical's plant there will take over its customers to boost factory utilization rates. Mitsubishi Chemical will also explore other partnerships with Tokyo-based Ube.

(Nikkei)

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