Sony Energy Devices Corporation succeeded in developing mercury-free technology for button-type batteries, which had been considered impossible, without sacrificing the performance of conventional mercury-coated batteries. As a result of 11 years on ongoing R&D regarding the aspects of materials and processing, this breakthrough was achieved without necessitating major adjustments in the production facility, while at the same time realizing epoch-making technology to suppress the generation of hydrogen gas. The world’s first mercury-free batteries commercialized in January 2005 are destined to become an internationally standard product given the eco-friendly design. In the face of multi-functionalization and diversification of such mobile equipment as laptop PCs, digital cameras, mobile phones, and audio players, greater importance and higher expectations will be placed on R&D for eliminating hazardous materials as exemplified in the technology above.
Sony Energy Devices Corporation http://www.sonyenergy-devices.co.jp/
Established in 2004 with the intention of strengthening battery manufacturing by integrating former Sony Fukushima’s development/design capacity and former Tochigi Sony’s mass production technology, Sony Energy Devices Corporation has built up an integral system as a base for advanced battery development, technology, and mass production. They are proactively addressing energy conservation and environmental issues based on the three pillars of reduce, reuse, and recycle.
“Upon serious deliberation and trial, if something is concluded as being absolutely impossible, then no one would attempt it because it is simply impossible for anyone. In short, Sony will also give up.”
This thinking was the starting point for the development of the mercury-free, button-type, silver oxide battery.
“Since the issue of mercury-freeing technology was taken up as the theme of a study, we have invested human as well as financial resources on this topic for more than 10 years. We always consider the possibility of eliminating such hazardous materials as mercury in any field of endeavor. We usually start with a mediocre approach, and given the mediocrity, it usually doesn’t work (laughing). In the initial stage, we usually conclude that something can be solved in the laboratory, but not on a commercial scale.”
Mr. Teramoto and his staff felt that given their position to help lead the industry, they must take another step forward. Even if it is absolutely impossible to eliminate mercury from their products, they can at least “prove that it is impossible.” Thus, they accepted this challenge of inevitable logic in the second stage involving the leading
“We dispatched Mr. Ohhara, a new member of our group, to the Central Laboratory (as it was called in 1999) located in Yokohama. I told him to go there and conduct an in-depth study about matters of principle only.”
Day after day, we checked the experiment reports being sent to us, and on a laboratory basis, we began to get an idea of what we needed to do. The problem was how such an idea could be implemented on a mass production basis, and whether the principle of working in a laboratory was commercially feasible or not. We spent a lot of time debating what to do.
“In fact, we had several solutions to choose from, and all our energy was focused on this decision. Finally, in 2002 we decided on one solution, and then set up a project for the third stage. We started off with good prospects of solving the problems related to productivity and quality in mass production, but there was no guarantee as to which way our project was headed (laughing).”
Mercury-free, button-type, silver oxide batteries come in a wide range of sizes. The “0% Mercury” logo is the symbol of this product.
The number of silver oxide batteries manufactured annually by the company reaches 400 million units. Mercury-free batteries will gradually replace these products.
“We had the prospects of achieving mercury-free production with some improvement and ingenuity, while utilizing the existing mass production facility. We didn’t need to opt for a scrap-and-build approach. That was one of the main reasons we decided to move forward.”
Had they needed to build a completely new production facility, they might have postponed their action. Deep inside, they were a bit anxious about their competitors getting the better of them.
“The major issue regarding the mass production stage is quality; that is, whether we have measures to ensure the quality or not. Since our production volume will be in units of tens of millions, product quality has top priority. Then there is field quality, which must prevent abnormalities during usage. We had several options for each criterion, but had a certain concern about all of them as we thought about future consequences (laughing).”
The production method they finally selected was such that it might be troublesome in the initial production stage, but could ensure quality even in mass production. By the time overseas competitors enter the market with low-priced products, they will have accumulated advantageous know-how which will not be caught up with by any means.
“After all, as long as you can ensure quality, you can survive even when the market is exposed to cost competition. Japan has production capacity far superior to any other country. Particularly when it comes to quality, I think Japan has overwhelming strength.”
The performance required after battery replacement and the passage of time
The world’ top manufacturer who reached a total production mark of five billion units in 2004 has now realized the mercury-free production of button-type, silver oxide batteries. In a society that is destined to become more environment-oriented, the impact of this breakthrough is unfathomable.
“We believe that the trend toward eliminating harmful substances will never wane.
Our ultimate goal is to produce the kind of biodegradable battery you can discard into compost after use and becomes part of the soil before you know it. I think essentially that is the way it should be with any of the products that we use daily.”
This statement from someone who has made the impossible possible might become a reality someday.