Hitachi hatches rare earth recycling plan

Japanese electronics giant hopes to reduce dependence on China’s supply of crucial minerals
p>Hitachi is hoping to minimise its dependence on China’s supply of the rare minerals commonly used to make hard disk drives and air conditioners, after unveiling machinery designed to boost recycling of rare earth metals.

The Japanese electronics and engineering giant today announced that its new mineral harvesting machinery will come online in 2013, and will be able to extract about 100 rare earth magnets per hour from old hard disk drives. It said the new automated process would prove eight times faster than current manual labour practices.

The company also said it has developed more efficient cutting and demagnetising equipment, which will make it easier to dismantle compressors and extract rare earth magnets.

Hitachi claims its new dry extraction method will reduce the cost and environmental impact of extracting rare earth metals from discarded machinery, compared to traditional methods using acids and chemicals.

According to Bloomberg, the Tokyo-based firm expects recycled minerals to supply 10 per cent of its rare earth needs when the new technology begins operating in 2013.

Rare earth metals have attracted significant attention in the past few months as China, which produces 97 per cent of the world’s supply, cut exports of the crucial minerals fuelling fears of a supply crunch.

These industrial metals can be difficult to extract in commercially viable quantities, and are particularly important to electronics firms and the clean tech sector with several rare minerals commonly used to manufacture computer components, wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicles.

However, China recently moved to ease fears it was planning to further constrict supplies of rare metals, stating that export levels would not be significantly cut.

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