Battery makers must rethink their technology if predictions for a wave of self-driving vehicles pan out, according to one of the inventors of the lithium-ion battery.
At Asahi Kasei’s laboratory in the early 1980s, Yoshino began researching polyacetylene, a conducting polymer discovered by the Japanese chemist and Nobel Prize winner Hideki Shirakawa. Although the material could be used in solar panels and semiconductors, Yoshino focused on batteries as a wave of small electronic devices requiring powerful, rechargeable energy sources began hitting the market.
He succeeded in building a lithium-ion battery using polyacetylene as the anode, later switching to carbon. But Sony Corp. beat Asahi Kasei in the race to commercialize it for mobile phones in 1991. The following year, Asahi Kasei formed a venture with Toshiba Corp. to make and sell their own batteries.
“I thought it would be a boon to tap into the 8 millimeter-video camera market,” Yoshino said, referring to an outdated format. “Mobile phones, laptops, and computers just kept multiplying, but no one was thinking about cars” at that time, he said.
That’s since changed. Bloomberg New Energy Finance projects electric vehicles will account for 54 percent of new car sales by 2040. Highly autonomous cars are expected around 2020, but technical and legal challenges to mass-market use of fully autonomous cars won’t be solved before 2030, BNEF said in a Dec. 1 report.
Yoshino was a recipient with three others of the 2014 Charles Stark Draper Prize for engineering for their contribution in the development of lithium-ion battery.