Europe has learned many times from Japan. In past decades Japanese business administration principles were adapted by European management consulting agencies, Japanese art of cooking found it’s way into our restaurants and even Japanese styles of bedding are popular in Europe.
Tomorrow maybe we’ll have the chance to adopt Japanese resources management into our European concepts.
Masafumi Maeda, Vice President of the University of Tokyo, Japanese Academy of Engineering is giving a keynote address at the World Resources Forum on Tuesday 20th of September. The general title “The Japanese View of Resource Management – a Perspective of Industry and Science” promises different insights into the way resources topics are discussed in Japan.
Professor Maeda is mainly doing research on recycling and processing of critical metals. In short terms we can describe the question of his research work as: how can we extract metals out of waste products and use them again? Of course this question is of big importance. Elements like noble earth and precious metals are exploited faster and faster, because demand is still growing. Recapturing these resources out of landfills and disposed products gets therefore more important every day.
A specific case of a rare metal used well over a sustainable degree is Indium. It is used mainly in LCD displays and semiconductors. Many companies have started to worry about an acute shortage of Indium (as well as Germanium and Copper). Already in 2008, Siemens had a team evaluating the business risks and options for Indium scarcity.
A quick web research reveals the price development of it during the last years (source: fullermoney):
The graphics show that even the economic downturn in 2008 didn’t manage to get the price down to the bottom 0f 2001. So how can we tackle scarcity of rare metals? There are two ways to solve the problem: One is to find different materials to substitute for rare metals. This is demanding as those metals often have physical properties that are hard or impossible to copy. The other option is to recapture rare metals out of waste, this is the area Prof. Maeda is working on. Here we face difficulties: Often, only about one gram of Indium is distributed on a whole LCD display. Getting the metal out of the display in the desired pureness without damaging the environment is difficult. Hopefully Prof. Maeda’s research can contribute to this.
Let me accent one more research topic we should perk up our ears on tomorrow: Maeda’s research topic concerning the recycling process of nickel-metal hydride batteries for hybrid electric vehicles. Car manufacturers have managed to deliver cars that consume less gas offering the same safety and comfort to car occupants by inventing the hybrid electric vehicle. This technology will certainly play an important role during the changeover from mineral oil based to a renewable energy supply. But how can we reuse the batteries containing rare and certainly not endless resources like nickel? How do we reuse and produce the batteries of future electrical vehicles?
We are curious to get Japanese insights because Japan is a key player in sustainability research. It has not only world class universities, a giant exporting industry and the most recent events in the nuclear energy sector. Also Japan’s geographical proportions and its location on our earth are good reasons for it to pursue a more sustainable future. We are very curious to get more insights from Japan and we will report on the speech on our blog tomorrow.