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Japan disaster causes shortage of lithium ion batteries for Apple

The earthquake and tsunami disaster has caused a Japanese chemical maker to shut down, resulting in constraints in the supply of lithium ion batteries for Apple's portable devices.

Kureha Corp. was recently contacted by Apple as the company expressed concerns over an apparent tight supply in lithium ion batteries, according to The Wall Street Journal. The report said the batteries are used in Apple's "popular iPods," but made no mention of other devices like the iPhone, iPad, or MacBook line.

Kureha is the maker of a "crucial" polymer known as polyvinylidene fluoride, or PVDF, used in lithium ion batteries that power devices like Apple's iPod lineup. The company has a 70 percent global market share of the polymer, but was forced to close down its factory in Iwaki, Japan, after the deadly earthquake hit on March 11.

As it struggles to meet demand for products from partners like Apple, Kureha is said to be accelerating its previously detailed plans to move its operations overseas. The company has factories in the U.S. and China, but none currently produce PVDF.

Takao Iwasaki, CEO of Kureha, told the Journal that his company was already considering production of PVDF in the U.S. and China in the future. The recent disaster will accelerate those plans, though he hopes to keep research and development in Japan.

About 800 workers are employed at the Iwaki plant that was shut down. Though it is located near the epicenter of the quake, none of the employees were said to have been seriously injured in the disaster.

Soon after the quake struck, concerns arose about Apple's ability to procure components from suppliers in Japan, particularly for the newly released and already constrained iPad 2. Among the parts said to be a concern by iSuppli are the system battery supplied by Apple Japan Inc.

While the iPad 2's three-cell battery is labeled as "assembled in China," the label refers to the whole battery pack. The battery itself is made by Apple Japan, which operates as a subsidiary of Apple. The Journal's story did not say whether Kureha's polymer is used in the iPad 2 battery.

Last week, one Wall Street analyst said checks with "critical" suppliers found that the disaster in Japan has not "meaningfully impacted" the supply of the iPad 2. It was said that any impact to supply would be "modest."