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Japan materials makers embrace carbon neutral production

  • February 23, 2022
  • , Nikkei Asia , 7:34 a.m.
  • English Press

TAITO KUROSE and SOTARO YUMAE, Nikkei staff writers

 

TOKYO — From plastic to steel, some of Japan’s top makers of industrial materials have ramped up efforts to achieve net-zero carbon dioxide emissions as their customers seek to cut CO2 across their entire supply chains.

 

Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings aims to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2026 in the production of methyl methacrylate, or MMA, which is used in plastics for auto parts and construction materials.

 

The company plans to offset emissions from the production process by switching to partly plant-derived materials, which would be a first in commercial MMA. Mitsubishi Chemical is the world’s largest producer of the material, with a roughly 40% share.

 

The partly plant-based MMA will be more expensive than the conventional alternative. But “we have been flooded by requests for bio-based materials in Europe,” a company spokesperson said.

 

Mitsubishi Chemical on Tuesday also announced that it invested in Lingrove, a U.S.-based producer of a carbon neutral composite material. The companies aim to commercialize the material by the end of this year for use in car interiors.

 

More companies are looking to slash emissions, including at their suppliers, as nations commit to reducing output of greenhouse gases. Honda Motor has asked main suppliers to achieve net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050, while Volkswagen is requiring suppliers to achieve carbon neutrality for certain electric-vehicle parts.

 

Carbon-neutral materials are vital to meeting such goals. The steel sector is responsible for about 30% of industrial CO2 emissions worldwide, and chemicals for 13%, according to the International Energy Agency.

 

Nippon Steel is working on new, less carbon-intensive steelmaking processes, like using hydrogen instead of coal. Still, such fundamental shifts will take time, and companies are seeking other solutions to offset their carbon footprint in the meantime.

 

Sweden-based Ovako, owned by Nippon Steel unit Sanyo Special Steel, began shipping carbon-neutral specialty steel last month by using renewable energy sources and carbon credits.

 

Japan’s energy mix poses a hurdle for materials makers looking to curb emissions. As of fiscal 2019, just 18% of electricity in Japan came from renewable sources, and 6% from nuclear. Steelmakers could struggle to secure stable access to renewable power if more industries and households also switch to greener sources.

 

The cost of renewable power is another challenge. It cost Japan’s onshore wind farms 9.6 cents to generate a kilowatt-hour of power in 2020, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency — compared with 5.2 cents in the U.K., and 4 cents in Sweden.

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