Itochu is a massive Japanese conglomerate with hundreds of subsidiaries and businesses; it’s one of the largest trading companies in the world. One of its myriad of investments is a 5 percent stake in U.S. lithium-ion battery maker EnerDel, which is a subsidiary of Ener1, is the exclusive battery supplier for Think City electric vehicles, and has been building a battery factory in Indiana with the help of funds from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
Recently EnerDel’s Itochu connection has paved the path for a fascinating pilot project in the city of Tsukuba, Japan, which Itochu manager, Hiroaki Murase, details in this interview. The project uses EnerDel batteries to power vehicles in a car sharing program, as well as the grid, and a battery-swapping system will be used to recycle and reuse the batteries where needed.
Itochu-owned convenience chain Family Mart will be involved in the project as the interface to the driver. A driver can charge up a vehicle outside the store, and off the solar panels on the store’s roof. Drivers can even exchange carbon credits earned with goods in the store. Both Think and Mazda electric vehicles will be used in the pilot.
In Ener1′s first quarter earnings call, Charles Gassenheimer, chairman and CEO of Ener1, said the project:
is being watched very closely by the industry as it enables EnerDel to collect invaluable end-of-life data for battery [sic]. This is going to be a key component in determining the residual life value of the battery and one of the most important functions within pricing the battery we believe will be the secondary use model.
The Tsukuba project is, of course, not Itochu’s only investment in clean power and electric vehicles: It owns assets in traditional power generation, nuclear and clean power. Murase said in the interview that over the next 5 to 10 years, Itochu plans to “significantly enhance alternative energy and the ‘green’ side of our business,” particularly with a focus on energy storage, including batteries, solar and water-related businesses.
Watch the video of the Tsukuba project – it’s one of the first of its kind in the world: