Battery pioneer Akira Yoshino on Tesla, Apple and the electric future

Akira Yoshino, one of the co-recipients of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his contributions to lithium-ion batteries, has played a pivotal role in transforming the automotive and technology sectors. The advent of lithium-ion batteries has introduced the first significant challenge in a century to the dominance of fossil fuels and combustion engines in transportation.

Currently serving as an honorary fellow at Asahi Kasei, the Japanese chemical company where he has dedicated nearly five decades of his career, Yoshino anticipates further disruptions as transportation and digital technology seamlessly merge into a single industry, sharing advancements in lithium battery technology.

In an interview with Reuters, Yoshino discussed the next generation of electric vehicle batteries, envisioning shared autonomous electric vehicles capable of self-charging, the potential of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and the prospect of Apple leading the convergence of the automotive and information technology realms in future mobility.

**Edited Transcript:**

**Reuters:** What technological advancements in design, chemistry, materials, and processes could sustain lithium-ion as the dominant EV battery chemistry, and for how long?

**Yoshino:** The key lies in two major areas of innovation: developing new cathode and anode materials and optimizing the system in which electric vehicles (EVs) operate. This includes understanding how people utilize and charge/discharge EVs.

**Reuters:** Are you referring to diverse ways people might use electric vehicles, such as not owning them but paying per use through ride-sharing?

**Yoshino:** Yes, the greatest potential lies in sharing. If practical, autonomous electric vehicles could revolutionize how people use vehicles.

**Reuters:** How soon do you think wireless charging for electric vehicle batteries will become a reality, be it through the roadbed, solar panels on vehicles, or another means?

**Yoshino:** The basic technology for wireless charging isn’t a challenge; the hurdle is implementing it in a practical system. Two possibilities exist: wireless charging for parked cars or while the car is in motion. This could become a reality sooner than expected, especially with autonomous electric vehicles that can independently determine when to charge.

**Reuters:** Toyota and Honda are selling a small number of fuel cell electric vehicles, but the hydrogen infrastructure seems years away. What are your thoughts?

**Yoshino:** Despite challenges in technology and costs for fuel cell vehicles, these can be overcome. Looking to the longer term (2030-2050), autonomous shared vehicles will emerge. The power source (gasoline, electric, or fuel cell) becomes less relevant; the key is automatic energy replenishment. Electric vehicles excel in this aspect.

**Reuters:** What insights can you share about the future of mobility?

**Yoshino:** Currently, the auto and IT industries are contemplating future mobility investments. A convergence between these industries is inevitable. While Tesla follows an independent strategy, Apple is the one to watch. Their potential announcement, likely by the end of the year, could shape the future of mobility around 2025, introducing a new car and battery. This is my personal hypothesis.

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