Japan Metals & Chemicals Co., which worked with Honda on the rare earths recycling initiative, is a company that takes pride in its extensive track record in developing hydrogen absorbing alloys.
“Rare earths are essential to the production of hydrogen absorbing alloys, one of our core products. So we had been researching the recycling of rare earths for some time,” said Toshiaki Hata, General Manager of Oguni Works, Functional Materials Div., Japan Metals & Chemicals Co..
In October 2008, Maki, who had learned that Japan Metals & Chemicals Co. was interested in rare earths recycling, visited the company’s Oguni Works in Yamagata Prefecture. Maki would propose that both companies work together on rare earths recycling. He was met by Shigeru Tsunokake, General Manager R&D Dept., Functional Materials Div., Japan Metals & Chemicals Co. After Maki had spoken for some time he realized it was already too late to catch the last train back to Tokyo that day. Tsunokake took Maki to an inn at the Iide Hot Springs, more than half an hour by car from the Oguni Works. While soaking in an open-air bath in the middle of the countryside, they took their time sharing their real feelings about resource recycling and the future of the global environment.
Tsunokake explained: “I had felt that more rare earths should be recovered from hydrogen absorbing alloys, so I conducted many recycling experiments, but it was clear from the market conditions that we could never cover our costs. That would make commercialization difficult. But when I listened with half belief and half doubt to Mr. Maki speaking with such enthusiasm,my heart was moved to thinking that commercialization might be possible some day, and then to believing that we must make it possible.”
Two years later in 2010, the rare earth market conditions changed overnight with the imposition of resource export controls by China. Market prices shot upward, to nearly ten times the price in 2008, stunning industrial circles. In response, at the end of 2010, the Ministry of Economic, Trade and Industry (METI) began providing support for the development of rare metals and rare earths recycling
technologies and alternative technologies. Japan Metals & Chemicals Co.’s“Introduction of Alloy Production Equipment Contributing to the Diversification of Rare Earth and Other Supply Sources” was adopted as a METI grant project. This gave strong impetus to its efforts with Honda. Hata explained: “As a company that uses rare earths, we have a social responsibility to address resource recycling. Honda, I’m sure, feels the same way. To supply products reliably, recovering resources from used products helps spread material procurement risk. In that sense, the success of our joint project with Honda is extremely important.”
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