Toray Industries Inc. (TYO:3402) is accelerating its development of advanced materials in the bid to establish new circular systems involving the likes of hydrogen and lithium.
For hydrogen-related efforts, Toray is targeting application in new energy supply chains – envisioning here a society that uses hydrogen alongside renewable energy. Company plans are to commercialize electrolyte membranes for use in hydrogen production equipment and residential fuel cells, as well as resin for use in hydrogen tanks. The course of action here calls for business operations to be fully up and running by fiscal 2022, the final year of Toray’s current medium-term management plan.
Additionally in this space, Toray has been engaged in ongoing R&D since 2019 into an electrolyte membrane and electrode substrate for fuel cell vehicles, a separation membrane for hydrogen purification and an electrolyte membrane for hydrogen compression.
Then for a medium–long-term initiative, Toray plans to come out with a new nanofiltration (NF) membrane with ultrahigh permeability and a number of potential applications. As things stand now, the company has succeeded here in achieving both pore size control and a larger membrane surface area. And along with improvement to the membrane’s selective separability, Toray has managed to achieve triple the permeability of conventional products. The company will continue to work on further technological improvements here, however, as it gives view further down the road to application in the recovery of lithium from salt lakes.
The current method of lithium recovery here sees salt lake water concentrated and chemically purified. However, this method of refinery is practical only where there are salt lakes with high lithium concentration – and further, it is expensive. But if purification could be performed instead with an NF membrane, chemical purification would be rendered unnecessary. And what is more, this membrane-based method could also be used for salt lakes with lower lithium concentration.
The rapid rise of electric vehicles has brought about increasing demand for lithium-ion batteries (LiBs), raising concerns of a lithium shortage. But by putting an ultra-permeable NF membrane into practical use – and thus significantly reducing the cost involved in lithium recovery – Toray’s efforts here promise to make more salt lakes suited to the task.