The Organic Battery From Japan That Could Spawn The Next Tesla

A startup says its new battery will make cheap, 300-mile-range electric cars as common as Corollas. 
Power Japan Plus

Dou Kani, the chief executive of Power Japan Plus, pushes what looks to be a standard lithium-ion battery across a conference table, the type of battery that powers everything from $30 flashlights to $90,000 electric cars.  

Except the silver cylinder contains no lithium oxide. Nor any expensive rare earth metals. It won’t catch fire if punctured. And unlike lithium ion batteries, it can be charged and discharged thousands of times without losing its energy capacity, its creator claims. Oh, and Power Japan Plus’ battery also generates more power than a lithium battery and can charge 20 times as fast. 

Translation: Cheaper long-range electric cars that can travel hundreds of miles on a charge and be juiced up in minutes rather than hours.

The only electric vehicle currently on the market that can go close to 300 miles on a charge is Tesla Motors’s Model S, which sports a massive and expensive lithium-ion battery pack. You can be excused for thinking this seems too good to be true. (Nearly a decade ago, a Texas startup called EEStor attracted millions of dollars from prominent Silicon Valley investors based on its claims to have developed a battery-like capacitor that would make long-range electric cars affordable. The company has yet to deliver on its promises.)

“We have ambitious claims,” Chris Craney, Power Japan Plus’s chief marketing officer, told The Atlantic in something of an understatement last week when the company’s top executives visited San Francisco to unveil the technology ahead of an announcement today. “If there’s an [electric vehicle] company that wants to climb to the Tesla level, we’d be a good company to talk to.”

The secret ingredient in the Japanese startup’s battery breakthrough? Cotton. Organic cotton, to be precise.

Yes, the same stuff that goes into your eco-conscious T-shirt. Except Power Japan Plus modifies the structure of the cotton’s carbon fiber to “create unique properties not seen in other carbon fiber ever developed.” The result – what the company calls a Carbon Complex– form the anode and cathode of its Ryden dual carbon battery, with an organic electrolyte as the conducting fluid. (Ryden is the English translation of the Japanese characters that mean god of lightning.)

The batteries operate at a steady temperature, meaning expensive cooling systems are not needed when they’re packaged into battery packs for electric cars.

Craney declined to reveal the cost of the Ryden battery. "I can’t give the numbers as that’s proprietary," he says. "But we’re not using anything but carbon."

The technology was pioneered by scientists at Japan's Kyushu University in in the late 1970s, according to Craney. Veterans of NTT and other Japanese corporations founded Power Japan Plus to commercialize dual carbon batteries and have spent the last six-and-a-half years perfecting the technology.

The company’s chief technology officer, Kaname Takeya, previously spent much of his career at Sumitomo, where he helped develop the battery technology used in the Toyota Prius and Tesla Model S.

Executives say the company has built a pilot production line in Okinawa that will begin manufacturing 500 to 5,000 batteries a month later this year.

Power Japan Plus plans to sell batteries for use in electronic devices but would collaborate with electric carmakers and license the technology to their battery makers, earning royalties and consulting fees, according to Craney.

Hurdles remain, to say the least. The technology has yet to be proved effective in electric cars, though the company said it will demonstrate that capability later this year.

“To be bold, we are confident we are a major solution for the current electric vehicle industry,” says Craney. 

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Todd Woody is an environmental and technology journalist based in California. He has written for The New York Times and Quartz, and was previously an editor and writer at FortuneForbes, and Business 2.0.

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