WHEN YOSHINO AKIRA, a Japanese chemist, worked on rechargeable batteries in the 1980s, it was with a view to powering portable devices. His Nobel-prizewinning research led to the first commercial lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery. These now power everything from smartphones to electric vehicles (EVs). But the Japanese firms that, building on Mr Yoshino’s work, dominated the Li-ion business early on have lost their edge. CATL, China’s battery giant, and the energy arm of LG, a South Korean group, have eclipsed Japan’s Panasonic as the world’s largest suppliers of EV batteries. Others are catching up in the production of materials and components.
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