¥5 billion set for rare earth projects


The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said Wednesday it will offer around ¥5 billion in subsidies for the development of technologies and other activities aimed at reducing the use of rare earths.

METI selected 49 projects at companies, universities and other institutions as eligible to receive the subsidies, in its bid to reduce the use of dysprosium, used for motors in hybrid vehicles and other products, by 30 percent in two years.

Japan relies on China for most of its rare earth supplies. The minerals are vital in the production of many high-tech products.

Because rare earth minerals may become difficult to obtain amid China’s export restrictions, METI publicly solicited projects late last year to reduce the use of the minerals or develop alternative resources.

Among them was a method to recycle dysprosium from discarded refrigerators and air conditioners, aimed at recycling 13 tons of the rare element in fiscal 2015. Projects to develop technologies for creating products with a reduced amount of dysprosium were also chosen for the subsidies.

Air conditioner recycling

Mitsubishi Electric Corp. said Wednesday it has developed a device that extracts rare earth elements from used household air conditioners to help cope with shortages of rare earth elements and reduce prices.

The apparatus will be installed at a factory run by Green Cycle Systems Corp., a Mitsubishi Electric subsidiary in the city of Chiba, and begin operations in April.

It can automatically take apart air-conditioner compressors and separate neodymium magnets from their rotors, according to the firm.

The collected rare earth elements will be provided to magnet makers for reuse in products.

Mitsubishi Electric will consider recycling rare earth elements in computer hard disk drives to increase the amount of the scarce minerals extracted for recycling, it said.

The company raised the prices of new air conditioners from November, citing the soaring prices of rare earth elements.