Rare metals are increasing important for autos and IT-related products. It is urgent for manufacturers of these products to diversify supply sources of rare metals for stable procurement. Sumitomo Electric will build a new plant to recycle such rare metals as tungsten with an investment of 2,200 million yen, and the plant will begin operation coming August. In this plant, superhard tools will be powderized using a heat treat furnace, and collected rare metals will be recycled as raw materials of superhard tools. The new plant will have a processing capacity of 5 tons per month. Because the company built a plant of the same kind last April, the two plant combined will be able to process all superhard tools, or 48 tons per month, it sells in the domestic market.
Mitsubishi Materials is also strengthening the system to recycle rare metals by increasing the production of intermediate materials of tungsten at its subsidiary Japan New Metals to stabilize procurement. Union Tool, one of the leading makers of precision tools for drilling semiconductor substrates, tripled sales of tools that reduced the consumption of rare metals through the change of geometry in two years. Rare metals including cobalt and tungsten account for more than 90% of a superhard tool in weight. Japan’s recycling rate of rare metals is about 25%. It is lower than 50% in the U.S. and 40% in Europe. Demand for tungsten remains strong thanks to the brisk auto business. Tungsten was 200 dollars per 10 kg in the spring of 2010, but it went up to 470 dollars in May of 2011. It stays around 430 dollars at present. The high price and possible shortage due to export restriction by China motivated Japan to increase the recycling rate of rare metals.