“Höganäs feels a high sense of responsibility to be friendly to the climate and the environment.”

Greater than the sum of its parts

Höganäs Japan helps make components more sustainable


JUNE 2022 Business Spotlight / Text by Alexandra Ziminski / Photos by Benjamin Parks

Car engines, gas turbines, and construction equipment are only as good as their parts. Traditionally, components used in these products, and many others, were created from wrought steel, which is made by heating iron ore in a blast furnace. It’s a process that uses a lot of energy, emits a significant amount of CO2, and creates waste. However, such components can also be made with powdered metal, most of which is created through heating in an electric arc furnace — a process that uses recycled material and consumes less energy.

As the world’s leading manufacturer of powdered metal used in powder metallurgy, the Swedish firm Höganäs is making environmental considerations the highest priority.

“Our goal is sustainability,” says Shoei Katano, president of Höganäs Japan. “Höganäs feels a high sense of responsibility to be friendly to the climate and the environment.”

Sustainable powders
Founded as a coal mining company in 1797, Höganäs began manufacturing iron powder in 1946. Today, it supports firms in a number of industries, including automotive, aerospace, energy, consumer electronics, and construction.

Höganäs came to Japan in 1957 and introduced the process of powder metallurgy, where powdered metal is pressed and sintered into shape.

“We were the pioneers,” Katano explains. “Höganäs came in with a scientific base and taught the Japanese industry how to create parts out of powdered metal.”

The process is important today in light of the emphasis being placed on sustainability and the circular economy.

“With powder metallurgy, you only use enough powdered metal to make the part,” explains Katano. “We call it near net shape, meaning the mould is very close to the shape of the finished product, so there’s less metal powder wasted.”

And he notes that the metal Höganäs uses is itself environmentally friendly.

“Our atomised powdered metal is made from scrap metal, a by-product of making steel. And you can recycle it, so it’s very circular,” states Katano. “We’re also one of the few companies making an effort to produce sponge powder using bio-coke, which greatly reduces carbon emissions.”

For decades, Sweden has been a leader in environmental protection and climate action. Inspired by this, in 2017, Höganäs became one of the first firms to sign the UN Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, which includes principles on becoming more environmentally responsible.

The firm has also committed to reducing its emissions across the three scopes defined in the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. Scope 1 looks at the direct emissions a company produces; Scope 2 focuses on indirect emissions, those created by its utility providers; and Scope 3 covers emissions produced across a firm’s entire value chain.

“We want to reach net-zero emissions by 2045, or before,” says Katano. “By 2030, we want to reduce Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions by 50%, compared with 2018 levels. This can be done, for example, by cutting the CO2 that we emit when we make metal powder and the amount of electricity that we purchase. For Scope 3, we want a 30% reduction, targeting emissions related to the sourcing of raw materials.”

These are in line with the Science Based Targets initiative Höganäs has committed to recently. To support these targets, the firm has 170 programmes in place to mitigate CO2 emissions.

Katano acknowledges that one big challenge is sourcing electricity that is produced using renewable energy. But its facilities around the world are taking steps towards accomplishing this.

“We have installed solar panels at our factory in Ath, Belgium,” he says. “And we source all of our electricity from renewable sources at our mixing factory in Japan.”


Grains of innovation
The largest industry that Höganäs Japan serves is the automotive sector. It counts Toyota and all the major original equipment manufacturers among its customers.

“I would say 90% of cars running in Japan have parts made from our powder,” says Katano.

The firm is using its expertise to innovate for the transformation that is currently taking place in the automotive industry. One way it is doing this is through a unique powdered metal with magnetic properties that can be used in the core of motors for electric cars.

“Its shape is very flexible because it’s made of powder, as opposed to laminated sheet metal,” states Katano. “There’s no waste and it consumes less energy to produce each component. There are a lot of companies interested in it right now, so we are working on how to increase our production capacity.”

Höganäs is also developing other sustainable and forward-looking forms of powder metallurgy, such as a powdered metal to be used in 3D metal printers. And it is doing its part to help make the technology more accessible.

“3D metal printers are highly energy efficient and environmentally friendly, but they are still very expensive and material costs are high, so it’s not yet economically feasible for mass production,” says Katano. “We can help on the materials side to try to make the technology more affordable; we have a fairly new factory in the US to produce these powdered metals.”

“When they see what we’re doing in Europe,” ... “we hope they’ll think, ‘Let’s do it the same way in Japan.’”

Reshaping the mould
To ensure Höganäs meets its net-zero goals, it has implemented a regular evaluation of how each team globally is moving towards their sustainability aims. All managers, including Katano, need to have a sustainability component in their annual objectives.

The Japan office has also been focusing more on how it can make its value chain more sustainable.

“It’s hard for us to control what happens downstream, but we’re working on partnerships with the companies that make the actual components from our powders,” says Katano. “We’re doing some case studies and trying to help our partners cut down on their CO2 emissions.”

But Höganäs Japan isn’t only thinking about itself and its own value chain. It has been a member of the Japan Powder Metallurgy Association (JPMA) since 1957, and it is working to promote greater sustainability across the entire industry here.

“We are trying to get the message out regarding sustainability,” says Katano. “Some of our experts will be coming to Japan for a conference to give a presentation on sustainability measures we take in Sweden, such as life cycle assessments. A lot of our Japanese colleagues within the JPMA are very interested in what is happening in Europe, where environmental regulations are a lot stricter.

“When they see what we’re doing in Europe,” he says, “we hope they’ll think, ‘Let’s do it the same way in Japan.’” •