According to IJWEI’s report, Japanese companies heavily reliant on key battery and semiconductor materials manufactured in China are expanding their sources as China intensifies export controls.
On October 20th, China announced that certain graphite items, including high-purity, high-strength, and high-density synthetic graphite materials and their products, cannot be exported without permission.
This regulation officially takes effect on December 1st of this year. Graphite is crucial for manufacturing the negative electrode of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles. While the permit requirements do not constitute a ban, they may lead to a reduction in China’s graphite exports.
Over 80% of the natural graphite used in Japan comes from China. In case of a disruption in graphite imports, Mitsubishi Chemical Group in Japan is considering strengthening its production of electrode materials in Shandong. The company is also exploring partnerships in Australia and production in Mozambique and Norway to diversify the supply.
Representatives from Nissan Motor Company have stated that they will consider sourcing graphite and other key electric vehicle materials from alternative regions.
Panasonic’s battery subsidiary, Panasonic Energy, is collaborating with a Canadian graphite company on research for large-scale production of electrode materials. In September of this year, the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) and the Canadian government signed an agreement to strengthen the battery supply chain.
According to data from the United States Geological Survey, the global graphite production reached 1.3 million tons in 2022, experiencing a 15% year-on-year growth due to the popularity of electric vehicles. China contributes to 70% of the graphite production and is a major producer of synthetic graphite. China serves as the primary low-cost exporter for both types of materials.
“The costs of procuring graphite will inevitably rise, the focus will be on how companies maintain their competitive advantage while bearing the costs.” as stated by Noboru Sato, visiting professor at Nagoya University.
Graphite is not the sole crucial mineral for China. In August of this year, China intensified export restrictions on gallium and germanium, vital rare metals used in the manufacturing of electronic components and semiconductors. Customs data indicates a significant decrease in the export of these two metals.
Japanese manufacturers are also exploring materials sources unaffected by China’s export controls. Kanto Denka Kogyo, a chemical producer, is testing lithium compounds from regions like South America to manufacture battery electrolytes. The company is also collaborating with Sumitomo Metal Mining to test technology for lithium recovery from discarded electric vehicle batteries.
At the same time, Japan is using diplomacy and foreign aid to ensure a stable supply of critical materials. Both China and Japan have confirmed the establishment of new bilateral export control dialogues. Senior trade officials from both sides will engage in regular consultations on export restriction issues.
The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry is seeking JPY 260 billion (approximately USD 1.74 billion) in the supplementary budget proposal for this fiscal year to support Japan’s battery manufacturing. Some of the funds may be allocated for investing in companies producing synthetic graphite in Japan.
Last year, Japan’s additional budget provided approximately JPY 200 billion to support the extraction, refining, and processing of critical minerals. Companies investing overseas in the production of rare metals will receive subsidies of up to half.
Companies outside Japan are also taking action to mitigate the impact of Chinese supply restrictions. According to Business Korea’s report, South Korea’s company Posco Future M, which produces battery materials, has preemptively planned to manufacture synthetic graphite using coal tar, a byproduct that can be sourced domestically in Korea.