Japan's 1st lithium hydroxide plant completed in Naraha

Photo: Toyotsu Lithium's lithium hydroxide plant completed in the Naraha-minami industrial park

A ceremony was held in the Fukushima Prefecture town of Naraha on Nov. 16 to mark the completion of a plant for producing lithium hydroxide, an in-car lithium-ion battery material. High hopes are pinned on the plant in the Naraha-minami (south) industrial estate as demand for lithium hydroxide, which is used as a raw material for the battery's positive electrode, has been growing due to widespread use of electric vehicles globally. The plant, the first of its kind in Japan, is expected to help achieve the Japanese government's target of realizing carbon neutrality by 2050. The plant is operated by Toyotsu Lithium Corp., which has its head office in Naraha. Nagoya-based Toyota Tsusho Corp., a general trading house of the Toyota Motor group, has an equity stake in the company. The new plant was built on a 16,347-square-meter tract of land in the industrial park at a total cost of some 10 billion yen. About 3 billion yen of the cost was funded by the national government's subsidy program designed to help locate new businesses to contribute to the self-support and employment of local people returning home from evacuation forced by the 2011 earthquake and ensuing nuclear plant accident. Toyotsu Lithium has 58 employees, 70 to 80% of whom are hired locally. The plant is capable of manufacturing 10,000 tons of lithium hydroxide a year -- equivalent to producing lithium-ion batteries for 150,000 to 200,000 units of EVs. Trial operations have already started with plans to begin sales by the end of this year and launch full operations toward year-end or early in the next year. Lithium hydroxide is also used as a catalyst for industrial applications in addition to battery production. Sumiko Energy Materials Co., a manufacturer of lithium-ion battery materials, is located in the Naraha complex while other industrial peers, including Furukawa Battery Co. and Toyo System Co., have plants in Iwaki city south of Naraha. Having a cluster of these businesses is expected to help promote the Fukushima Innovation Coast Framework scheme, a national initiative designed to build a new industrial zone in the coastal region of Fukushima Prefecture. Toyotsu Lithium was set up in 2018 as a joint venture between Toyota Tsusho and Allkem Ltd., a lithium chemicals company based in Brisbane, Australia. It is 25% owned by Toyota Tsusho and 75% by Allkem, but the former has a 51% share in voting rights. Toyota Tsusho also engages in production of lithium carbonate, a lithium hydroxide material, jointly with Allkem in the Olaroz salt lake area in Argentina. (Translated by Kyodo News)