Toshiba Corp said on Wednesday it would build a new factory to boost production of advanced rechargeable batteries that can be used in hybrid cars and electric vehicles. The plant is to begin production in late 2010 and will increase Toshiba's manufacturing capacity to several million cells per month from its current level of 150,000 cells, according to spokeswoman Hiroko Mochida.
The company will invest "several tens of billions of yen" in the plant, she said. The Nikkei business newspaper reported the cost would be between 20 billion yen and 30 billion yen ($220 million - $330 million).
Toshiba said in a press release it had selected a site in northwest Japan as the main candidate for the new factory. Lithium ion batteries are lightweight and well-suited for electronics such as laptop computers and mobile phones, but lose capacity over time and have been the subject of massive product recalls due to safety issues including overheating and even exploding.
Toshiba says its new batteries are safer than existing batteries, can be quickly recharged, and last longer than current batteries, offering ten years of continual use with a daily recharge. It calls the new type of battery "Super charge ion Battery," or SCiB, and began shipping units in April. While the batteries can be used in electronics, the company targets larger applications such as electric vehicles and industrial power supplies.
They are currently used in an electric bike made by Cannondale Sports Group that offers quick recharge times, and Toshiba is in talks with other companies, including a major automobile manufacturer, Mochida said.
Batteries are still a minor business for Toshiba, one of the world largest makers of flash memory chips used to store information in gadgets like portable music players and digital cameras. The company also has a large nuclear power plant business. Demand for flash memory has fallen as consumers cut spending on electronics, and last week Toshiba it will cut output by 30 per cent.