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Mitsubishi: More than Just Motors

Mitsubishi aims to send as little waste to landfills as possible.

You’ve undoubtedly heard of Japanese company Mitsubishi before. They make some of the most popular vehicles on the road and are a staple in the home theatre industry. While the scope of its business is vast, you might not have expected Mitsubishi to get into the energy-from-waste business. That’s exactly what they’ve been doing, though, to great effect. As a major electric company, they have a big stake in what could be the future of waste management.

Aiming for “Zero”

Mitsubishi’s waste management efforts start with one of the core goals of modern waste management: sending zero waste to landfills.

Last month, we featured Sainsbury’s, a U.K. supermarket chain that is converting food waste into energy to such great effect, it’s currently powering one of its own stores using only that energy. The chain also sends zero waste to landfills and is able to achieve this because of the biodegradable nature of the waste.

With Mitsubishi, it’s a bit different.

The waste produced by its plants is generally non-biodegradable, therefore making recycling vitally important to its long-term success. At its North American plant, the company is taking steps both big and small to reduce its carbon footprint over all. As it’s been noted before, throwing more waste into energy-from-waste programs won’t solve the problem.

Simple things such as replacing the paper towels in the restrooms with hand dryers lead into bigger steps, such as reducing shipping materials by assembling parts in the factory instead of receiving them already put together.

“It is a subtle thing you wouldn't think about, but when designing a car you also have to design the containers the parts fit into,” Dan Irvin, MMNA general manager of corporate communications, told The Phantagraph.

The plant is trying to cut down on usage on all fronts, including using less water, and recycling its Styrofoam and steel.

In 2013, Mitsubishi as a whole began initiatives to reduce its waste to zero across all of its affiliates by 2021. Its Japanese operations send less than 0.1 percent of waste to landfills, but further efforts such as the one at its North American plant need to be enacted at its affiliates overseas for it to hit its targets across the board.

The Heavy Lifting

Mitsubishi hopes to reuse or recycle 100 percent of its industrial waste and reduce carbon emissions. In order to do this, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) introduced a Waste Incineration Facility in 2011 that aids in the reclamation of heavy, otherwise unusable waste.

The company isn’t exactly new to the waste management business, either. It opened its first facility in 1971 and has delivered 66 facilities over its history. Its latest iteration is effective for several reasons.

“The facility was simplified and downsized by realizing a form of direct combustion that does not require the pre-drying of sludge,” the company explains. “A high-efficiency dry type flue gas treatment system with a filtering reactor was adopted for the cleaning of combustion exhaust gas after waste heat recovery, satisfying strict environmental regulations and promoting efforts for the recycling and reuse of byproducts.”

In the waste-to-energy field, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Environmental & Chemical Engineering Co. has delivered and constructed more than 180 plants since 1964. The system, called the Mitsubishi-Martin Stoker WtE System, is one of the most popular on the market. It was developed originally by Mitsubishi’s corporate partner in Germany, Martin GmbH. These plants are running around the world, such as the Guangzhou Likeng plant in China and the Tuas South plant in Singapore.

A Work in Progress

While Mitsubishi is a leader in the waste management field, it’s always working toward a future in which waste can be better managed. Aside from its efforts to move toward a zero-waste future, the company is also working toward better efforts in plastics recycling in Japan. It began in 1999 with its Hyper Cycle System, which has more recently been coupled with the company’s Green Cycle System. The combination of these two recycling systems has seen the amount of plastic waste jump from a mere 6 percent, to an astounding 70.

The company sees it mission are more than just reclaiming plastics.

“Materials recovered from old products are valuable resources of benefit to society. We look at a mountain of old electrical appliances and see a ‘city mine,’ and view ourselves as the miners entrusted with the painstaking work of extracting the precious ore from it,” Takashi Hishi, the company’s Executive Corporate Adviser, said. “But we're really still just in the era of discovery of what might be possible. We hope in five or ten years Hyper Cycle Systems and Mitsubishi Electric will be viewed as the nucleus of a completely new type of recycled materials industry.”

Overall, the company is looking to expand the scale of recycling across Japan and Mitsubishi believes it already has the capabilities to make this happen.

“Right now the facility has ample capacity to refine much more raw plastic materials than it receives from Hyper Cycle Systems,” Satoshi Matsuda, President of Green Cycle Systems, explained. “And once we achieve full operation, which we expect to happen as quickly as possible, then we will develop as a bearer of new industry that can contribute to society with a low-carbon footprint and recycling-oriented base. I truly believe this is essential for the betterment of the industry and for Japanese society at large, in the future.”

In addition to this, Mitsubishi is also stepping up its energy-from-waste business, upgrading its existing plants. Its Kyoto plant has become an exemplar for energy-from-waste plants in Japan, as it will become more energy efficient and have a longer lifespan by the year 2018.

While they have been a leader in the field for many years, Mitsubishi is a company to watch in the waste management business.   

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