For Quick Spread of EVs, U.S. Regulators Need to Quickly Approve More Domestic Mines for Critical Minerals

(p. A6) For decades, a group of the world’s biggest oil producers has held huge sway over the American economy and the popularity of U.S. presidents through its control of the global oil supply, with decisions by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries determining what U.S. consumers pay at the pump.

As the world shifts to cleaner sources of energy, control over the materials needed to power that transition is still up for grabs.

China currently dominates global processing of the critical minerals that are now in high demand to make batteries for electric vehicles and renewable energy storage. In an attempt to gain more power over that supply chain, U.S. officials have begun negotiating a series of agreements with other countries to expand America’s access to important minerals like lithium, cobalt, nickel and graphite.

But it remains unclear which of these partnerships will succeed, or if they will be able to generate anything close to the supply of minerals the United States is projected to need for a wide array of products, including electric cars and batteries for storing solar power.

Leaders of Japan, Europe and other advanced nations, who are meeting in Hiroshima, agree that the world’s reliance on China for more than 80 percent of processing of minerals leaves their nations vulnerable to political pressure from Beijing, which has a history of weaponizing supply chains in times of conflict.

. . .

. . ., some U.S. officials argue that the supply of critical minerals in wealthy countries with high labor and environmental standards will be insufficient to meet demand, . . .

. . .

Jennifer Harris, a former Biden White House official who worked on critical mineral strategy, argued that the country should move more quickly to develop and permit domestic mines, . . .

. . .

“There’s so much that needs doing that this is very much a ‘both/and’ world,” she said. “The challenge is that we need to responsibly pull up a whole lot more rocks out of the ground yesterday.”

For the full story, see:

Ana Swanson. “The U.S. Needs Minerals for Electric Cars. So Does Everyone Else.” The New York Times (Monday, May 22, 2023): A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated May 23, 2023, and has the title “The U.S. Needs Minerals for Electric Cars. Everyone Else Wants Them Too.”)

“In Tokyo Good Things Have Been Created Through Private Initiative”

(p. A22) Yuta Yamasaki and his wife moved from southern Japan to Tokyo a decade ago because job prospects were better in the big city. They now have three sons — ages 10, 8 and 6 — and they are looking for a larger place to live. But Mr. Yamasaki, who runs a gelato shop, and his wife, a child-care worker, aren’t planning to move far. They are confident they can find an affordable three-bedroom apartment in their own neighborhood.

As housing prices have soared in major cities across the United States and throughout much of the developed world, it has become normal for people to move away from the places with the strongest economies and best jobs because those places are unaffordable. Prosperous cities increasingly operate like private clubs, auctioning off a limited number of homes to the highest bidders.

Tokyo is different.

. . .

Small apartment buildings can be built almost anywhere, and larger structures are allowed on a vast majority of urban land. Even in areas designated for offices, homes are permitted. After Tokyo’s office market crashed in the 1990s, developers started building apartments on land they had purchased for office buildings.

“In progressive cities we are maybe too critical of private initiative,” said Christian Dimmer, an urban studies professor at Waseda University and a longtime Tokyo resident. “I don’t want to advocate a neoliberal perspective, but in Tokyo good things have been created through private initiative.”

Tokyo makes little effort to preserve old homes. Historic districts subject to preservation laws exist in other Japanese cities, but the nation’s largest city has none. New construction is prized. People treat homes like cars: They want the latest models.

For the full commentary, see:

Binyamin Appelbaum and Andrew Faulk. “Tokyo, the Big City Where Housing Isn’t Crazy Expensive.” The New York Times (Saturday, September 16, 2023): A22.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date September 11, 2023, and has the title “The Big City Where Housing Is Still Affordable.”)

Okinawans Think Ikigai (a Reason for Living) Is Important for Long Life

(p. A11) Ask most people if they want to live to be 100 and the response is likely to be “Sure!” followed by “Wait a sec . . .” Questions suddenly abound: Am I going to be healthy? Am I going to be lonely? Will I be financially stable? Will I have outlived everyone I knew and loved? What author-researcher Dan Buettner set out to demonstrate in “Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones” is that the solutions to those concerns are also the keys to longevity itself.

. . .

What is clear early on is that what Mr. Buettner “discovers” during his visits to Sardinia; Singapore; Okinawa, Japan; Ikaria, Greece; and even Loma Linda, Calif., is largely what we would expect: that much of what helps people live longer isn’t necessarily the purple Japanese sweet potatoes, or going to church every day, or having the limited stress load of a Greek shepherd. It is an Okinawan diet rich in nutrients and fiber, the walking uphill to the Sardinian church, and the community to which one belongs in Loma Linda when one is, for instance, a Seventh Day Adventist who plays pickleball.

. . .

There are many correlating clues to a longer life across the locations in “Live to 100.” Okinawans emphasize the importance of having an ikigai, or reason for living; in Costa Rica the same thing is called one’s plan de vida.

For the full television review, see:

John Anderson. “Netflix’s Lessons in Longevity.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the television review has the date August 29, 2023, and has the title “‘Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones’ Review: Lessons in Longevity.” In the original the word ikigai and the phrase plan de vida are in italics.)

Buettner’s latest book on blue zones is:

Buettner, Dan. The Blue Zones Secrets for Living Longer: Lessons from the Healthiest Places on Earth. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2023.

Feds Impose Tariffs on Imports of Paper-Thin Steel Needed to Make EV Engines

(p. A3) Large U.S. steelmakers are ramping up production of a hard-to-make, paper-thin steel to capture a fast-growing market for a material critical to powering electric vehicles.

. . .

Such electrical steel, which accounts for about 1% of all the steel produced annually in the world, already is in short supply for electric vehicles, executives said. Companies expect demand to accelerate faster than production as EV volumes expand in the coming years.

“It’s in limited supply and with very long lead times. Sometimes 50 or 52 weeks,” said Hale Foote, owner of Scandic Springs Inc., a San Leandro, Calif., company that uses high-grade electrical steel to make parts for scientific measurement devices.

. . .

More than 80% of the electrical steel produced comes from China, Japan and South Korea, all countries that are subject to U.S. tariffs or quotas on steel imports, industry analysts said.

. . .

(p. B2) “It takes intense focus. You have to have absolute consistency or you scrap the material,” said David Stickler, who led the investment group that built Big River Steel in Osceola, Ark., and then sold the mill to U.S. Steel in 2021. Mr. Stickler said he envisioned electrical steel being a core product at Big River when he started planning the mill nearly a decade ago.

. . .

Steel-industry executives said that creating more domestic capacity to make electrical steel for vehicles will likely take years, as steel companies acquire equipment and become proficient at the exacting production process.

“You can’t just buy the equipment and start making electrical steel. Those who’ve made the investment will have an advantage for the next five to 10 years,” Mr. Stickler said.

For the full story, see:

Tita, Bob. “Paper-Thin Steel Used to Power EVs Is in Short Supply.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, March 28, 2023): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added. The online version is longer, but the passages quoted above appear in both versions.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 27, 2023, and has the title “The Paper-Thin Steel Needed to Power Electric Cars Is in Short Supply.”)

Yale Economist Says Stagnant Japan Would Benefit from Mass Suicide of Elder Citizens

A growing number of so-called “progressives” are advocating an end to economic growth. I do not believe that most of them understand how much more suffering and death the world will experience if their advocacy succeeds. (I remember decades ago seeing a beautiful but troubling Japanese movie with my friend Hajime Miyazaki, in which the loving, aging matron of a starving family was willingly carried up a mountain by one of her sons and left there so the other members of her family would have more to eat.)

(p. A1) In interviews and public appearances, Yusuke Narita, an assistant professor of economics at Yale, has taken on the question of how to deal with the burdens of Japan’s rapidly aging society.

“I feel like the only solution is pretty clear,” he said during one online news program in late 2021. “In the end, isn’t it mass suicide and mass ‘seppuku’ of the elderly?” Seppuku is an act of ritual disembowelment that was a code among dishonored samurai in the 19th century.

. . .

(p. A10) Given Japan’s low birthrate and the highest public debt in the developed world, policymakers increasingly worry about how to fund Japan’s expanding pension obligations.

. . .

In Japanese folklore, families carry older relatives to the top of mountains or remote corners of forests and leave them to die.

. . .

In broaching euthanasia, Dr. Narita has spoken publicly of his mother, who had an aneurysm when he was 19. In an interview with a website where families can search for nursing homes, Dr. Narita described how even with insurance and government financing, his mother’s care cost him 100,000 yen — or about $760 — a month.

For the full story, see:

Motoko Rich and Hikari Hida. “Scholar Suggests Mass Suicide for Japan’s Old. Does He Mean It?” The New York Times (Monday, Feb. 13, 2023): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 12, 2023, and has the title “A Yale Professor Suggested Mass Suicide for Old People in Japan. What Did He Mean?”)

Auto Experts Are Skeptical of EVs, but Are Afraid “So They Can’t Speak Out Loudly”

(p. A1) “People involved in the auto industry are largely a silent majority,” Mr. Toyoda said to reporters during a visit to Thailand. “That silent majority is wondering whether EVs are really OK to have as a single option. But they think it’s the trend so they can’t speak out loudly.”

. . .

(p. A6) The world’s biggest auto maker has said it sees hybrids, a technology it invented with the debut of the Toyota Prius in the 1990s, as an important option when EVs remain expensive and charging infrastructure is still being built out in many parts of the world. It is also developing zero-emission vehicles powered by hydrogen.

“Because the right answer is still unclear, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to just one option,” Mr. Toyoda said. Over the past few years, Mr. Toyoda said, he has tried to convey this point to industry stakeholders, including government officials—an effort he described as tiring at times.

Global car companies have made a sharp pivot to electric vehicles within the last few years, driven in part by the success of EV-only maker Tesla Inc.

. . .

At the same time, the legacy auto makers have a much broader base of customers, including many living in rural areas and developing economies with unreliable electricity supplies.

And their gas-engine businesses are still driving the bulk of profits needed to fund the costly shift to electric vehicles, which not only requires the development of new models but also construction of new facilities and battery plants.

The infrastructure to charge electric vehicles is meanwhile still lacking in the U.S. and many other parts of the world, making owning an EV still a challenge for many types of consumers.

. . .

Ryan Gremore, an Illinois-based dealer, who owns several brand franchises, said he gets a lot of customers inquiring about EVs, in part because of limited supplies.

That might give the impression of robust demand, but it is unclear how it will materialize when inventory levels at dealerships normalize, he added. “Is there interest in electric vehicles? Yes. Is it more than 10% to 15% of our customer base? No way,” Mr. Gremore said.

Mr. Toyoda’s long-held skepticism about a fully electric future has been shared by others in the Japanese car industry, as well.

Mazda Motor Corp. executives once cautioned that whether EVs were cleaner depends largely on where the electricity is produced. They also worried that EV batteries were too big and expensive to replace gas-powered models and better suited to the types of smaller vehicles that Americans didn’t want.

For the full story, see:

River Davis and Sean McLain. “Toyota Skeptical of Going All-EV.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Dec. 19, 2022 ): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Dec. 18, 2022, and has the title “Toyota Chief Says ‘Silent Majority’ Has Doubts About Pursuing Only EVs.”)

Government Sends Town’s $360,000 Covid Relief Funds to 24-Year-Old Who Loses It All at Online Casinos

(p. A4) TOKYO — Residents of a rural Japanese town were each looking forward to receiving a $775 payment last month as part of a coronavirus pandemic stimulus program.

But a municipal official mistakenly wired the town of Abu’s entire Covid relief budget, nearly $360,000, to a single recipient on the list of low-income households eligible to receive the money. After promising to return the accidental payment, the police said, the man gambled it away.

The man, Sho Taguchi, 24, told the police that he had lost the money in online casinos, a police official in Yamaguchi Prefecture said by phone on Thursday [May 19, 2022]. The day before, the authorities arrested Mr. Taguchi, the official said. The charge: fraud.

Japan is not the only country where coronavirus relief money has been misappropriated. The fraud has been so widespread in the United States that the Justice Department recently appointed a prosecutor to go after it. People have been accused of buying a Pokémon card, a Lamborghini and other luxuries.

But Abu, population 2,952, may be the only town on earth where an entire Covid stimulus fund has vanished at the hands of an online gambler who received it through administrative error. The details of the case, and the rare attention from Japan’s national news media, have come as a shock to residents of the seaside town.

For the full story see:

Hisako Ueno and Mike Ives. “A Town’s Covid Money Was Sent to One Man in Error. He Gambled It Away.” The New York Times (Friday, May 20, 2022): A4.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 19, 2022, and has the title “A Town’s Covid Money Was Sent to One Man in Error. He Gambled It All Away.”)

California Should Go Nuclear

(p. C1) A recent study sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Clean Air Task Force concluded that to meet its net-zero pledge by 2045, the state of California will need power that is not only “clean” but “firm”—that is, “electricity sources that don’t depend on the weather.” The same is true around the world, and nuclear offers a relatively stable source of power.

Nuclear plants don’t depend on a steady supply of coal or gas, where disruptions in commodity markets can lead to spikes in electricity prices, as has happened this winter in Europe. Nor do nuclear plants depend on the weather. Solar and wind have a great deal of potential, but to be reliable energy sources on their own, they require advanced batteries and high-tech grid management to balance varying levels of power generation with anticipated spikes in demand. That balancing act is easier and cheaper with the kind of firm power that nuclear can provide.

. . .

(p. C2) In France, as part of a massive push to “reindustrialize,” the government will spend $1.13 billion on nuclear power R&D by 2030. The focus is on developing a new generation of small modular reactors (SMRs) to replace parts of the existing fleet that supplies around 70% of the country’s electricity.

. . .

. . . it’s , , , important to recognize that regulatory oversight and safety provisions are usually effective. Even the Fukushima accident, or the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania in 1979, could be considered a success on the safety front: Some safety features failed but others worked, containing the fallout.

. . .

SMRs and other new technologies are the nuclear industry’s big hope. One focus of research is using new fissile materials such as thorium, which is more abundant, produces less waste and has no direct military applications. Other technologies look to using existing nuclear waste as a fuel source. Turning away from massive reactors toward SMRs might, at first, increase costs per unit of energy produced. But it would open financing models unavailable to large reactors, allowing costs to come down, with reactors following a uniform design instead of being designed one by one. Building many small reactors also allows for learning-by-doing, a model actively pursued by China at home and as part of its Belt and Road Initiative abroad.

None of these new technologies is sure to be economically competitive. Some of the more experimental technologies, like China’s thorium reactors, might yet pay off. TerraPower, a venture founded by Bill Gates, has been working on natrium reactors for over a decade and recently added a molten-salt design to the mix, which could make a real difference if it works out. The point is to try. Like solar and wind, nuclear energy could climb the learning curve and slide down the cost curve with the right financial backing.

For the full commentary, see:

Gernot Wagner. “Is Nuclear Power Part of the Climate Solution?” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 7, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

The commentary quoted above is related to the author’s book:

Wagner, Gernot. Geoengineering: The Gamble. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2021.

“Don’t Give Up and Say There’s No Point”

(p. A18) TOKYO—The world’s oldest verified living person, Kane Tanaka of Japan, has died at age 119.

. . .

According to Japanese news accounts, Ms. Tanaka loved chocolate and carbonated drinks and hoped to live to 120. Her motto was “Don’t give up and say there’s no point. Live with all your heart.”

For the full story, see:

Chieko Tsuneoka. “World’s Oldest Person Dies at 119.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, April 26, 2022): A18.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 25, 2022, and has the title “World’s Oldest Person, Japan’s Kane Tanaka, Dies at 119.” The print version has a longer first sentence than the online version, which is quoted above.)

Central Planners’ Electric-Vehicle Push Is “More Political Showmanship Than Sound Planning”

(p. A1) The Toyota Prius hybrid was a milestone in the history of clean cars, attracting millions of buyers worldwide who could do their part for the environment while saving money on gasoline.

But in recent months, Toyota, one of the world’s largest automakers, has quietly become the industry’s strongest voice opposing an all-out transition to electric vehicles — which proponents say is critical to fighting climate change.

. . .

(p. A9) In statements, Toyota said that it was in no way opposed to electric vehicles. “We agree and embrace the fact that all-electric vehicles are the future,” Eric Booth, a Toyota spokesman, said. But Toyota thinks that “too little attention is being paid to what happens between today, when 98 percent of the cars and trucks sold are powered at least in part by gasoline, and that fully electrified future,” he said.

Until then, Mr. Booth said, it makes sense for Toyota to lean on its existing hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles to reduce emissions. Hydrogen fuel cell technology should also play a role. And any efficiency standards should “be informed by what technology can realistically deliver and help keep vehicles affordable,” the company said in a statement.

. . .

On paper, Toyota’s approach to zero-emissions vehicles, the hydrogen fuel cell, is a dream: Unlike battery-powered electric vehicles, these cars carry hydrogen tanks and fuel cells that turn the hydrogen into electricity. They refuel and accelerate quickly, and can travel for several hundred miles on a tank, emitting only water vapor. And hydrogen, theoretically, is abundant.

But a high sticker price, as well as lack of refueling infrastructure, has hampered the growth of a hydrogen economy, at least for passenger cars.

. . .

Jeffrey K. Liker, professor emeritus of industrial and operations engineering at the University of Michigan and author of “The Toyota Way,” said that there were other factors slowing Toyota’s push. A famously cautious company, Toyota has researched solid-state batteries, which are safer than the widely used lithium-ion technology, but readying that technology has taken longer than they expected, he said. Toyota has also spoken about not wanting to lay off employees or bankrupt suppliers in a rapid transition to electrics.

“Toyota’s view is also that countries are jumping in with the idea of the electric-vehicle endgame without a real plan, and it’s more political showmanship than sound planning,” Mr. Liker said.

For the full story, see:

Hiroko Tabuchi. “Maker of Prius Now Resisting Emissions Push.” The New York Times (Monday, July 26, 2021): A1 & A9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Aug. [sic] 6, 2021, and has the title “Toyota Led on Clean Cars. Now Critics Say It Works to Delay Them.”)

Liker’s book mentioned above is:

Liker, Jeffrey. The Toyota Way, 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer. 2nd ed: McGraw-Hill Education, 2021.

MSG Seasoning Maker Finds Lucrative Tech Use for MSG Byproducts

(p. B10) The chip shortage is adding extra flavor to a 113-year-old Japanese seasoning company.

Japan’s Ajinomoto is renowned for inventing monosodium glutamate—the controversial flavor enhancer that adds umami to dishes. But it also makes a material that goes into the central processing units of computers around the world.

Ajinomoto manufactures a type of insulation material called Ajinomoto Buildup Film, or ABF. It was once made using byproducts from MSG manufacturing but isn’t any longer. The insulation material in turn goes into a semiconductor component called ABF substrate, which connects microchips to circuit boards.

. . .

Ajinomoto expects ABF shipment volume to grow 67% over the next four fiscal years. And its customers downstream are expanding capacity to meet demand. Ajinomoto said growth this fiscal year may slow but it will pick up again once those expansion plans are realized.

Ajinomoto’s core seasoning business is a less tasty morsel, but the business has still weathered the pandemic well. Even though demand from restaurants dropped, increases in home cooking have helped profits since retail products sell at higher margins.

For the full story, see:

Jacky Wong. “Microchips Punch Up MSG Maker.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Aug. 20, 2021): B10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date August 19, 2021, and has the title “Is MSG Bad for You? Not if It Comes With a Side of Microchips.”)