Japan Quake Creates Polymer Problem

Production of a polymer needed for batteries that power mobile devices, like the iPod, has been affected by the March 11 Japanese disasterThe Wall Street Journal reports that the March 11  earthquake and tsunami in Japan have adversely hit the supply of a polymer produced from a resin known as polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF). The polymer holds together lithium-ion batteries that power Apple’s iPods and other mobile devices.

Mariko Sanchanta, deputy bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal in Tokyo, explains that the Japanese company Kureha:

[…] has a 70% share of the global market for a crucial polymer used in lithium-ion batteries, had to shut its factory in Iwaki — near the quake’s epicenter — after the March 11 disaster struck. It is the only place where Kureha makes this particular polymer.

The crucial polymer, PVDF, is appealing in batteries because it’s flexible and can be squashed inside small mobile devices. The Iwaki factory was not damaged in the disaster, but the nearby Onahama Port is crippled. Critical supplies for the polymer’s production, such as vinyl chloride and salt, aren’t getting to the factory. Kureha’s CEO told The Wall Street Journal that the Japanese disaster will hasten the company’s plans to move production of PVDF outside of the country.

Source: “Chemical Reaction: iPod Is Short Key Material,” The Wall Street Journal, 03/28/11
Image by Juan Pablo Olmo/juanpol, used under its Creative Commons license.

Rajendrani "Raj" Mukhopadhyay is a science writer and editor who contributes news stories and feature articles on scientific advances to a variety of magazines. Raj holds Ph.D. in biophysics from Johns Hopkins University.