Effective Use of Resources

Basic Approach

The SMM Group’s business centers on the utilization of the earth’s limited and valuable resources. The effective use of resources is therefore considered an important managerial issue as we seek sustainable business development. Based on this understanding, the SMM Group has included “effective use of resources” as one of its Six CSR Areas of High Priority. We are working on a range of activities with the aim of being “a company that generates resources using innovative technology” as stated in our Vision for 2020. We are developing technologies to effectively utilize minerals which have not previously been converted into resources, such as low-grade and hard-to-process ores. We are also endeavoring to develop technologies for recycling resources, including the effective recovery of copper and precious metals contained in items such as used home appliances and electronic devices and valuable metals, such as nickel, from used batteries.

Making Effective Use of Low-Grade Ores

The plant of CBNC (*1) commenced full-scale operations in April 2005. Nickel oxide ore has been excavated from the adjacent Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation’s mine since before that time. However, while high-grade oxide ore with high nickel content buried deep in the earth was being mined, low grade oxide ore with low nickel content existing close to the surface was not extracted. Because this low-grade oxide ore is said to make up around 70% of all nickel oxide ore resources worldwide, there was global demand for the development of technology that would allow it to be processed.

Recovering nickel from this low-grade oxide ore requires a hydrometallurgical technique called High-Pressure Acid Leach (HPAL). Large-scale production using this process requires a high degree of equipment engineering and operational skill. Industry players the world over have been struggling with the application of HPAL technology, but SMM overcame many technical hurdles to become the first company in the world to successfully apply HPAL technology to commercial production. Turning previously unusable low-grade ore into resources also has tremendous significance in terms of effective resource utilization.

Low-grade nickel ore for THPAL

In order to make full use of this HPAL technology, SMM embarked on its Taganito Project in 2009. The project entailed the construction of a large HPAL process plant with an annual production of 30 kilotons of nickel in the Taganito District on Mindanao Island in the Philippines. The project progressed well, and operations at THPAL (*2) got underway in autumn 2013, and in August 2014, acieved production of over 3 kilotons.

  • Coral Bay Nickel Corporation (CBNC)
    Shareholders: Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., Ltd. (54%), Mitsui & Co., Ltd. (18%), Sojitz Corp. (18%), Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corp. (10%)
    Head Office: Rio Tuba, Bataraza, Palawan Province, Philippines
  • Taganito HPAL Nickel Corporation (THPAL)
    Shareholders: Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., Ltd. (62.5%), Mitsui & Co., Ltd. (15%), Nickel Asia Corporation (22.5%)
    Head Office: Taganito, Surigao del Norte Province, Philippines

Using Resources Effectively through Recycling

Recovery and recycling of copper and copper alloys were readily pursued because of their high scrap value even before the 3Rs (reduction, reuse and recycling) were advocated as a catch-phrase by society. Almost all the copper shavings generated by manufacturers of electric cables and wrought copper and copper alloy products are reused as raw material.

The SMM Group procures copper and precious metal scrap from the market and recovers valuable and precious metals from electric arc furnace dust and used printed circuit boards, among other sources.

In FY2015, the proportion of recycled materials such as copper alloy secondary materials and electric arc furnace dust was about the same level as in FY2014. Meanwhile, the ratio of recycled materials was practically unchanged at 18.1% (18.3% in FY2014) as production of electrolytic copper from recycled copper materials was approximately 76 kilotons in FY2015.

Ratio of Recycled Materials Used

FY 2013 2014 2015
Total volume of materials used (kt) 7,850 12,055 11,795
Recycled materials (kt) 271 264 233
Recycled materials ratio (%) 3.5 2.2 2.0

Slag as a Recycled Material

Copper slag is a by-product produced during smelting at the Toyo Smelter & Refinery, which manufactures electrolytic copper. The main use for copper slag (almost one-half of the total volume) is cement production in Japan and overseas. With an iron content of around 40%, copper slag is widely used as a source of iron for cement. Copper slag output in FY2015 was approximately 893 kilotons, with a sales volume of approximately 977 kilotons.

Hyuga Smelting manufactures ferro-nickel, a material used in stainless steel. It generated around 707 kilotons of ferronickel slag. Approximately 704 kilotons of ferro-nickel slag was sold as a recycled material, mainly to blast furnaces for steelmaking. With a magnesia content of around 30%, ferro-nickel slag is used as a source of magnesia for blast furnace flux. By taking advantage of their respective features, both copper slag and ferro-nickel slag are also used as substitutes for natural sand in fine concrete aggregate and harbor and civil engineering construction. In April 2016, Japan Industrial Standards (JIS) for fine concrete aggregate was revised and an environmentally safe quality was added. Demand is also increasing for tougher environmental standards for slag, and ours comfortably meets this demand.

Recycling Nickel Metal Hydride Batteries

SMM manufactures and sells materials used in the cathodes of nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) batteries for hybrid vehicles (HV). Demand for Ni-MH batteries is surging as more fuel efficient HVs become more common.

This sharp increase in demand will ultimately lead to massive end-of-life Ni-MH battery disposals in a dozen years or so. Ni-MH batteries contain a substantial amount of useful metals and advancing the recycling of end-of-life units is extremely important not merely in terms of reducing waste but also for effective resource utilization.

SMM, which focuses on the effective resource utilization aspect of recycling, has been researching ways to recycle Ni-MH batteries since FY2000. In FY2010, in collaboration with Toyota Motor Corporation, SMM collected used Ni-MH batteries from end-of-life HVs and recycled their components for use in cathode materials on new Ni-MH batteries, thus enabling the world’s first “battery-to-battery” resource cycle. We established facilities at Niihama Nickel Refinery, and are promoting recycling operations.

Ni-MH Battery Recycling: Flow Diagram

Recycling Precious Metal

Some recycled materials

SMM smelts non-ferrous metals using raw material ores extracted from mines both inside and outside Japan. Meanwhile, with the recycling of non-renewable resources (*) as our social commitment, we apply proprietary smelting technologies in the separation and recovery of precious metals from end-of-life home appliances and electronic components.

Japan, while poor in natural resources, is one of the fewurban mine countries in the world. The Precious Metals Recycling Division of Ohkuchi Electronics Co., Ltd., a SMM Group company, collects, separates and mills urban mine raw materials including precious metals, then roasts and dissolves them using acids and alkali to effectively recover and concentrate precious metals for reuse as alloys in other metals at our Toyo Plant.

In recent years, the amount of precious metals used in making home appliances has fallen due to cost reductions and technological innovations, and the form of collected raw materials and their suppliers are diversifying. The SMM Group will flexibly adapt to these market conditions and contribute to society while collaborating in all directions in hopes of fulfilling our mission as a non-ferrous smelter.

  • Non-renewable resource: A resource that decreases the more it is used; that is, a resource that decreases by the rate it is used and whose growth is slow.