In September 2015, all 193 members of the UN signed up to the 2030 Agenda, a plan to eliminate poverty, unfairness and injustice wherever possible, protect the environment, and create a better future. One of the key features of the agenda was the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which set out a vision for how the world should be by the year 2030. Following on from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which the international community had been working on for 15 years since 2001, the SDGs are positioned as universal goals applicable to all countries.
Rather than relying solely on national governments, the SDGs also require companies and members of the public to take action all over the world. The SDG Compass is a guide to show companies how they should be using the SDGs, published jointly by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), UN Global Compact, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). It provides the following explanation.
“Unlike their predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs explicitly call on all businesses to apply their creativity and innovation to solve sustainable development challenges. The SDGs have been agreed by all governments, yet their success relies heavily on action and collaboration by all actors. The SDGs present an opportunity for business-led solutions and technologies to be developed and implemented to address the world’s biggest sustainable development challenges.”
The Mitsubishi Materials Group is a diversified material manufacturer with the corporate philosophy "for People, Society and the Earth." We are also committed to achieving our vision – “We will become the leading business group committed to creating a sustainable world through materials innovation, with use of our unique and distinctive technologies, for People, Society and the Earth.”
The adoption of the SDGs by the UN has reaffirmed that we are going in the right direction with our business activities as a group, and provided us with a springboard from which to assess critical long-term risks and opportunities, in terms of issues that we need to address and the path we need to take in the future.
Of the 17 goals set out under the SDGs, numbers 7 (energy), 8 (growth and employment), 9 (innovation) 11 (cities), 12 (production and consumption) and 13 (climate change) in particular tie in with areas in which we are implementing priority initiatives.
We intend to incorporate the SDGs into our strategies from the point of view of both comprehensive efforts to increase business competitiveness, and the creation of new products and businesses. We will also be actively working with a wide range of outside partners as we strive to achieve a balance between social value and economic value.
Yuzawa Geothermal Power Corporation (hereinafter, "Yuzawa Geothermal Power"), which we established in April 2010 through a joint investment with Electric Power Development Co., Ltd. (J-POWER) and Mitsubishi Gas Chemical Company, Inc. (MGC), began construction of the Wasabizawa Geothermal Power Plant in May 2015. This power plant started commercial operations on May 20, 2019.
This power plant has a capacity of 46,199 kW and generates electricity using promising geothermal energy in Yuzawa, Akita prefecture. It is the first time large-scale geothermal plant with a capacity exceeding 10,000 kW to start operations in Japan in 23 years. While we were designing equipment for the plant, it became possible to increase the capacity of this power plant to 46,199 kW from the 42,000 kW that we announced when we began construction. This is why the capacity was changed from what was initially announced.
Yuzawa Geothermal Power will contribute to expanding the use of renewable energy through the stable operation of the Wasabizawa Geothermal Power Plant.
The New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) conducted a geothermal development promotion survey of the Appi area. Based on the results of this survey, we discussed and planned the commercialization of geothermal power generation in this area with Mitsubishi Gas Chemical Company, Inc. (MGC).
After resource assessment and environmental impact assessment, Appi Geothermal Energy Corporation (hereinafter, "Appi Geothermal Energy"), which we established through a joint investment with MGC and Electric Power Development Co., Ltd. (J-POWER), began constructing the Appi Geothermal Plant in August 2019. With the construction of this environmentally friendly geothermal plant with a capacity of 14,900 kW, Appi Geothermal Energy aims to contribute to controlling CO2 emissions and ensuring a stable power supply. We will proceed with construction with safety as the top priority, aiming for the plant to begin operations in April 2024.
This is our second joint geothermal power generation project with MGC and J-POWER, following the Wasabizawa Geothermal Power Plant.
Regarding New Energy Fujimino Co., Ltd. (NEFC), our wholly owned subsidiary that will operate the business of producing biogas from food waste, we have reinforced its business structure by adding three shareholders, Ichikawa Kankyo Engineering Co., Ltd. (hereinafter, "IKE"), Co-op Deli Consumers’ Co-Operative Union (hereinafter, "Co-op Deli"), and Co-op Mirai. We have also reviewed the project plan because we had difficulty acquiring the project site. As a result, we changed the schedule, now aiming to commence operations in September 2020. Construction began in July 2019.
Moving forward, we will make steady progress on construction and undertake procedures including those for the acquisition of permits and licenses. We will collaborate with IKE in the collection of food waste to start accepting waste smoothly at the time of the commencement of operations. With Co-op Deli and Co-op Mirai, we will discuss specifics of the acceptance of food waste and have consultations for building a food recycling loop, in which power generated at the biogas plant will be used at stores and other facilities.
On March 2, 2020, we were recognized by the Nippon Kenko Kaigi under the 2020 Certified Health & Productivity Management Outstanding Organizations Recognition Program (large enterprise category) (period of recognition: March 2, 2020 to March 31, 2021). In this program , the Nippon Kenko Kaigi examines large enterprises, SMEs and other organizations engaging in initiatives to overcome health-related challenges in communities or promote the health-conscious activities led by the Nippon Kenko Kaigi, and recognizes outstanding enterprises engaging in efforts for health and productivity management.*
At Mitsubishi Materials, we have been taking initiatives for health and productivity management from various angles, such as providing detailed health guidance by industrial healthcare staff, introducing a centralized healthcare system, and providing counselling and other measures by clinical psychologists to prevent mental health problems at work. We will continue to take specific actions for health and productivity management by collaborating with the Mitsubishi Materials Health Insurance Society , as we vow in Article 2 of our Code of Conduct, which says “We are committed to providing a safe and healthy environment for all our stakeholders.” Thus, we will strive to improve the vitality and productivity of our employees and revitalize our organization.
*The term “health and productivity management” is a registered trademark of the Workshop for the Management of Health on Company and Employee.
Note: The Nippon Kenko Kaigi is an organization that takes practical community- and workplace-based actions, under collaboration among private organizations and with full administrative support, to extend healthy lifespans and to provide appropriate medical care, targeting individual persons in Japan, a country facing a dramatically advancing aging society with fewer children.
In April 2019, we carried out organizational reforms of the Central Research Institute (Naka city, Ibaraki prefecture), which has more than 100 years of history, to create a structure that permits flexible reorganization, aiming to promote efficient and quick research and development for future generations.
We abolished ten research departments and job classes, such as general managers of departments. Thus, hierarchical relationships and boundaries between organizations were eliminated, and all researchers were placed under the direct control of the General Manager of the Central Research Institute. This is aimed at increasing the mobility of human resources and integrating and creating technologies and information. Researchers are allocated according to a matrix with a project axis and a core technology axis. An Advancement Leader (AL) is allocated to each theme on the project axis, and a Technical Manager (TM) is assigned to each field on the core technology axis. Research activities are carried out from multiple perspectives, including a time axis and a technology readiness level. In addition, themes and research personnel composition on the project axis are changed flexibly as necessary.
We have also launched the Future Business and Technology Creation, in which we pursue research topics for creating the future of the Group without being constrained by the frameworks imposed by existing businesses and technologies.
And we have assigned a Research Management Officer (RMO) to keep optimizing the overall research and development activities. Duties of the RMO include formulation of policies, support for research and development activities, assessment of the situation, and reallocation of resources.
In April 2020, we established the Mining & Metallurgy Laboratories, which have a comprehensive system for technological R&D, ranging from assaying metallic minerals to mining and ore dressing, smelting processes, and the recycling of metals. We have newly assigned resource engineers to the Smelting Technology Development Center in the Naoshima Smelter & Refinery, to address various technological issues regarding metallic minerals in a prompt, agile manner, and to proactively apply leading edge technology from all over the world through industry-government-academia research collaboration and other activities. Thus, we strive to advance our smelting technologies and foster resource engineers.
Taking advantage of our Mitsubishi Process, we promote the recycling of E-Scrap, reduction of environmental impact, and other initiatives, which are our unique strengths. By enhancing our unique technological assets created through the integration of smelting and resource technologies, we will reinforce our system to participate in diverse mining projects and promote the optimization of materials flow in the smelting and recycling processes, aiming to create a sustainable raw materials portfolio.
In recent years, the business environment surrounding the manufacturing industry has grown more severe, principally due to diversifying customer needs and the dwindling labor force in Japan. The industry is faced with the challenge of delivering better quality and higher production efficiency through digitization and automation. At the Mitsubishi Materials Group, which is collectively working to advance the automation of its inspection equipment, the use of digital data to for more efficient and sophisticated production activities leads directly to greater business competitiveness.
Consequently, we established the Smart Factory Promotion Center (Omiya-ku, Saitama city, Saitama prefecture) on September 1, 2019, to facilitate the digitization and automation of the Group's production sites by using information technology represented by IoT and AI and mechatronics technologies.
The Smart Factory Promotion Center advances sophistication, standardization and horizontal expansion of technologies by mobilizing engineers specialized in AI and mechatronics. Especially for AI technology, the Center aim to involve a variety of human resources including foreigners, develop human resources within the Group, and exchange human resources and technologies actively. The Center consists of two departments, Advanced System Department that is creating IT infrastructure and assisting improvement activity by data analysis, and Advanced Mechatronics Department which is developing product inspection technologies and collaborative robot technologies by applying mechatronics technologies. Current challenges the Center is addressing are as follows:
In recent years, the reduction of environmental impact and cost reductions have been promoted through the development of lightweight electronic components and the control of materials loss, both of which are enabled by applying printed electronics technology. This technology creates electronic components such as electronic circuits, elements, and wire harnesses, by means of printing and spraying.
We started the development of a copper nanoparticle ink with our assessment partner Elephantech Inc. (hereinafter, "Elephantech"), a startup in the field of printed electronics. A University of Tokyo startup, Elephantech has a unique manufacturing technology which prints metal nanoparticles using an inkjet on only the necessary parts and grows metals with a plating technology. The company has applied this technology to enable shorter lead times and lower manufacturing costs than with conventional flexible substrates.
The copper nanoparticle ink we are developing will be used for this inkjet printing process. At present, silver nanoparticle ink is used widely. However, this ink has problems. There can be faulty insulation of the circuit and short circuits caused by migration (migration of the ionized metals from the positive electrode to the negative electrode, which occurs when voltage is applied in a high-humidity environment or similar conditions). Copper nanoparticle ink provides a solution to these problems and also enables cost reductions.
We have developed a sintering bonding material, which permits the direct, pressureless bonding of high-temperature semiconductor devices to copper materials, which are used for insulated substrates (hereinafter, "substrates") in next-generation power modules.
With the conventional method of bonding a high-temperature semiconductor device to a copper material or component in a next-generation power module, such as an inverter for controlling the power supplied to a high-output motor in a hybrid or electric vehicle, the surface of the substrate had to be plated with a precious metal, such as gold or silver, and heat and pressure have to be applied at the same time. The new product permits pressureless bonding without plating the copper material of the substrate surface with a precious metal while maintaining the same bonding strengths (30 MPa or higher) and heat resistance (200 degrees Celsius or higher) as conventional products. Further, it enables a bonding layer with many fewer voids (void spaces exceeding 10 µm each that are formed in a bonding layer) than conventional products formed in a high-temperature semiconductor device (10 x 10 mm) that are frequently used in power modules.
Due to these advantages, the new product is expected to be used more widely as a sintering bonding material for next-generation power modules, for which high heat resistance and reliability are required.
Due to the popularization of cashless payment systems in recent years, payment terminals need to be compatible with multiple payment methods. Therefore, these terminals come with many functions, including LCD panels, card readers, and contactless reading functions, in addition to communications functions. In particular, compact terminals have little internal space, where the electronic circuit for individual functions are arranged close to each other. This has caused an issue, the significant degradation of wireless communication performance attributed to the emission noise generated by the operations of each electronic circuit.
To address this issue, we collaborated with Flight System Consulting Inc. and developed a new product that enables new shapes and optimal arrangements which are less affected by radiation noise. This is a compact, high-performance, multi-band*1 antenna for IoT terminals that use cellular communications*2. It will be used in the mobile units of Incredist Trinity, a new payment terminal compatible with multiple payment methods, an area that is a strength of Flight System Consulting Inc. It will support communication for a wide variety of payment methods used all over the world, including contact and contactless IC credit cards and electronic money.
*1 Multi-band means being compatible with multiple frequency bands.
*2 Cellular communication is used mainly for digital mobile phone services.
Demand for lithium ion batteries is expected to grow further due to the spread of electric and hybrid vehicles. On the other hand, there is a concern over a supply shortage of rare metals that are major materials for batteries, such as cobalt and nickel.
In April 2019, we began a recycling test for cobalt and nickel, which are used in lithium ion xEV *(electrified vehicle) batteries, together with Nippon Magnetic Dressing Co., Ltd., with which we have been engaged in joint research. In this project, we installed our proprietary cobalt and nickel refining equipment on the premises of the Hibiki Plant (KItakyushu city, Fukuoka prefecture) of Nippon Magnetic Dressing. We will promote the technical validations of this facility and joint development of a safe, highly efficient recycling technology based on the results of the validations, aiming for its commercialization in fiscal 2023.
* xEV is the collective name for electrified vehicles, including hybrid vehicles (HEVs), plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs), and battery electrified vehicles (BEVs)
Due to the electrification of automobiles, the demand for lithium ion batteries is expected to grow further, and the number of discarded automotive lithium ion batteries is also anticipated to continue to increase accordingly. We have been promoting the recycling of lithium ion battery waste. With a low level of degradation, lithium ion batteries can be reused at low cost as storage batteries for 5G base stations, renewable energy power producers, and others. Accordingly, the demand for the reuse of these batteries is also expected to grow significantly.
In response, in August 2019, we began a verification test of a technology that diagnoses the degradation of automotive lithium ion batteries when they are replaced and disposed, jointly with Goiku Battery Co., Ltd. This company has an innovative battery diagnosis technology that enables quick, accurate measurement of battery degradation. Appropriate degradation diagnoses of discarded lithium ion batteries will enable the sorting of batteries to determine which can be reused and which should be recycled, leading to an effective utilization of batteries and mineral resources. Moving forward, we will promote the joint development of highly efficient battery diagnosis technology, aiming for commercialization.
To comply with the revised RoHS Directive1 that came into effect in July 2019, the Omiya Branch of the Central Research Institute acquired certification under ISO/IEC 170252, an international standard for the chemical testing (quantitative assay), for the four substances of phthalates contained in nonferrous metals.
When exporting electric or electronic equipment to Europe, exporters need to observe restrictions on the use of specific hazardous substances stipulated in the RoHS Directive. In December 2015, we acquired ISO/IEC 17025 certification for the six substances related to RoHS Directive target substances, which are contained in non-ferrous metals. As a result of the acquisition by the Omiya Branch, we have acquired the certification for an expanded range of substances. We will strive to have this achievement lead to continual maintenance and development of our technologies and continual improvement of our quality management systems.
At the same time as the acquisition of this certification for the expanded range of substances, we updated our “ISO/IEC 17025:2005” certification to “ISO/IEC 17025:2017.” We plan to operate analytical tests related to this certification within the Group only.
On March 27, 2020, the Aomori Plant (Higashidori-mura, Shimokita county, Aomori prefecture) of our Cement Company began to accept rice straw (rice plants dried after harvest) as a part of the disaster waste generated by Typhoon Hagibis in Matsushima-machi, Miyagi-gun, Miyagi prefecture.
In Matsushima-machi, rivers were flooded by Typhoon Hagibis in October 2019. This caused farmlands in the town to be submerged, and the rice straw floating in these farmlands ran into and damaged cultivated lands and other places. The total amount of the rice straw is estimated to be as large as 7,000 tons. The Aomori Plant plans to accept approx. 1,000 tons of rice straw through fiscal 2021. The accepted rice straw will be effectively used as an alternative material for generating thermal energy for manufacturing cement. After they are burned, the ash is used as a material for cement. Thus, the rice straw is recycled into a material for the reconstruction of the disaster-affected area.
Our Iwate Plant (Ichinoseki city, Iwate prefecture) also accepts disaster waste generated by Typhoon Hagibis in Iwate prefecture.
We decided to support the recommendations* of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), which was established by the Financial Stability Board, and also decided to participate in the TCFD Consortium, which consists of companies, financial institutions, and other organizations which support those recommendations.
For the Group, tackling the climate change has been one of its most important tasks for building a decarbonized society. Reflecting this, the Group has taken initiatives such as building an energy- saving manufacturing process, developing materials, products, and technologies that contribute to decarbonization, developing and promoting use of renewable energy, such as geothermal power generation, participating in verification projects of Carbon Capture and Storage, and activities for the conservation of our forests. Moving forward, we will further enhance activities for tackling climate change and disclose information about this proactively in accordance with the TCFD recommendations. The statement that we have made to express our support for the TCFD recommendations is as follows.
"The Mitsubishi Materials Group has a vision, which says 'We will become the leading business group committed to creating a sustainable world through materials innovation, with use of our unique and distinctive technologies, for People, Society and the Earth'. We will contribute to the realization of a decarbonized society through the provision of products, services and technologies that enable us to solve problems caused by climate change. We hereby express our support for the recommendations of TCFD and declare that we actively disclose our actions concerning both business risks and opportunities caused by climate change."
*Recommendations made by the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) in June 2017, which encourage business enterprises and other organizations to understand and disclose the impact of climate-related business risks and opportunities on their financial performance, on a voluntary basis