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Recycling technology development activities
It is important to recover resources as much as possible to expand usage of recycled resources. In addition to operating two recycling factories, Panasonic is actively engaged in the development of recycling technologies.
Rather than just stopping at the recovery of resources, we are working to address wide-ranging issues, including the expansion of resources recycling and the acquisition of scarce metals.
Development of high-precision resin sorting system (mass production equipment)
In the past, we sorted by hand the resources recovered from used products that are reused as plastic materials in our products. Plastic materials that could not be sorted by hand were not reused in products but used as fuels after shredding. This is because plastics containing brominated flame retardants, which are subject to environmental regulations, could not be removed after shredding.
In fiscal 2011, Panasonic developed a high-precision resin sorting system that automatically sorts and recovers plastic materials from residues. This system was introduced into the recycling factory of Panasonic Eco Technology Center Co., Ltd. (PETEC) on a trial basis.
The system uses near-infrared rays to instantly identify specific plastic materials contained in the residues carried on a conveyor, and the plastic materials that are identified are shot down for recovery with compressed air. This system enables the sorting and recovery of plastic materials by type at purity of over 99%, and also enables the removal of plastic materials that contain bromine. This development has led to an increase in the amount of recycled resources recovered.
In fiscal 2012, we took steps to install mass production equipment. As with the trial model, the mass production equipment is compact in size and does not require the use of water. Compared with the trial model, however, the new equipment offers an approx. 20% improvement in the recovery rate, an increase in capacity of 1.5 times, and the potential to process 1,000 tons annually.
Development of the neodymium magnet recovery system
Neodymium (Nd) magnets are used in the motors of air conditioner compressors and certain drum-type washing machines. These magnets often contain dysprosium (Dy), and both of these metals are critical materials for recovery due to their scarcity and high value. Given the supply instability and booming price, securing rare earth metals has become extremely important.
In fiscal 2012, we completed the development of a set of equipment that extracts Nd magnets from used products and introduced it in our operations.
Our recycling factory PETEC has developed and introduced compact systems, primarily for air conditioning compressor motors, that do not emit heat or gases and therefore have a low environmental impact.*1 By putting the rotor part of the motor into the system, the plate-shaped Nd magnet can be collected after removing the magnetic force. While Nd magnets have been used in air conditioners manufactured in recent years, these important materials could not be recovered until now. With the introduction of this system, in fiscal 2013, we expect to recover 1.2 tons of Nd magnets.
Panasonic Eco Technology Kanto Co., Ltd. (PETECK), a joint-venture recycling company formed with Mitsubishi Materials Corporation, has developed and introduced systems that are capable of processing not only air conditioners, but also washing machine motors that are able to recover Nd magnets as well as non-ferrous metals.*2
Up until now, large volumes of metals such as iron, copper, and aluminum were recovered in the recycling process, but our development of recycling technologies has made it possible to now retrieve materials that are more difficult to recover and reuse, such as Nd magnets.
- *1 Supported by a business subsidy program of Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
- *2 Supported by a business subsidy program of the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization.
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