Realizing a Sustainable, Circular Mobility Society

Throughout the world there has been an accelerating move towards rethinking conventional economic and social activities based on mass production and mass consumption in a way that includes the risk of resource depletion and environmental degradation caused by mass disposal of products. Similarly, the automotive industry has previously undertaken initiatives that utilize recycled materials and biodegradable plastics, as well as those that incorporate easy-to-disassemble structures, for example. Together with these conventional approaches, however, achieving a sustainable society also requires efforts intended to realize a resource-circulating society with a smaller environmental impact. Specifically, such efforts rely on incorporating a carbon-neutral perspective while seeking to maximize the added value of resources and products.

As one example of an effort to address this major challenge, we develop technologies that enable the switch to bio-derived materials at the material design and production stages, and that extend the life of components by reducing deterioration and wear. We also accumulate key elemental technologies for circular manufacturing, such as those that link used automobile batteries with different degrees of deterioration together for reuse as high-capacity batteries, and those that enhance quality by using oxidation to remove impurities during recycling processes. In addition, we also engage in efforts required for circulating resources throughout entire life cycles, an example of which includes constructing models to assess various scenarios that balance environmental impact with economy, and that include resource constraints, reuse, and recycling, not just CO2 emissions.

Key Themes

Envisioning social systems that circulate the diverse range of values possessed by resources

In the past, we have conducted research in collaboration with various research institutions to assess the wide-ranging impacts the automotive industry has on society and the environment. Examples of this research include predicting transportation choices and demand coinciding with changes in demographics, predicting the introduction of renewable energy resulting from the spread of electric vehicles, and assessing the energy mix in factories. We will promote the development and application of comprehensive assessment models that take into account both resource constraints and social systems as part of complex social phenomena, such as today's resource circulation and the supply-demand structure required to achieve carbon neutrality.

Conceptual diagram of a system to promote reuse and recycling in a circular mobility society

Wisely controlling charging and discharging in order to fully leverage used batteries

A demand has emerged for technologies that enable the efficient reuse and recycling of the used batteries that will accrue as electric vehicles come into regular use. We are therefore developing a control function (SWEEP SYSTEM®) that allows multiple used batteries to be connected together so that they can be reused as a single high-capacity battery. At the same time, this function serves to charge and discharge these batteries efficiently despite differences in the degree of deterioration and performance of each component battery. By conducting demonstrations in collaboration with the electric power industry, we are also exploring the possibility of using these batteries in power buffers for introducing renewable energy.

High-capacity battery consisting of multiple used batteries connected together (SWEEP SYSTEM®)

Realizing a sustainable society by circulating diverse values of batteries

We promote research projects to circulate automotive rechargeable batteries in society and maximize their value by promoting sustainable resource circulation, safe and secure battery management, and reuse of used batteries. By integrating our accumulated core technologies in electrochemistry, materials engineering, electrical engineering, and control engineering, and by working in an integrated manner from battery material research to power system application development, we will contribute to the realization of a sustainable, recycling-oriented society that is both carbon neutrality and circular economy.

Battery circulation system

Upcycling from scrap materials to efficiently reuse resources

Aluminum is the second most widely used material in automobiles after steel, which is why industry must reduce CO2 emissions during its production, in addition to reusing and recycling aluminum. Aluminum scrap is almost entirely only used for low-purity products (cascade recycling), however, because it contains many impurities. We are therefore working to enable the remanufacture (upcycling) of primary aluminum products with few impurities by automatically sorting aluminum scrap using image recognition technologies and by realizing higher quality through the removal of impurities without the use of regulated substances. As a result of returning aluminum scrap resources to a state similar to that of virgin materials, we will reduce waste to zero and contribute to efficient circulation.

Concept of aluminum utilization today and upcycling

Deriving optimal designs that facilitate the reuse of automotive components

To promote the reuse and recycling of automotive body parts, it is necessary that the parts are easy to disassemble, requiring small amounts of time and effort to remove, and that their decrease in properties are minimized when recycled. To solve these problems, attention has been focused on component designs that consider cost efficiency when dismantling and transitioning to using one type of material (monomaterialization) for multiple components with different functions. Therefore, we aim to establish mathematical analysis methods to search for optimal disassembly procedures and evaluate disassembly performance and structural design methods to realize the desired mechanical properties of monomaterial components through ingenuity of structure.

Optimal component disassembly process

Elemental Technologies

Measurement Engineering, Mechanical Elements and Tribology, Metallic Material Properties, Synthetic Organic Chemistry, Energy Chemistry, Social Systems Engineering, Sound Material-Cycle Social Systems, Environmental Materials and Recycle Technology, Earth Resource Engineering and Energy Sciences, Power Engineering