CompetitivEdge: Vol. 1 Super Faiths – The Company that Turns Diapers into Energy

by Yasuhiro Karakawa, Program Manager, SGE Asia Programs (1/4/13)
Yasuhiro Karakawa, Program Manager, SGE Asia Programs

CompetitivEdge is a new interview series that aims to introduce world-changing technologies, products, and ideas. In this first interview, we talked with Mr. Kimura, the president of Super Faiths Inc., a Japanese company that recycles used diapers into energy.



CSGE:

It’s interesting to note that you have had experience with a variety of different businesses including working with a planning and construction studio and managing a racing team. Can you share your vision that guided you through those different businesses and how that vision relates to your current company’s unique name Super Faiths?

Mr. Kimura


Mr. Kimura, Super Faiths:

Through all my business ventures, I have always envisioned the future and a new lifestyle. Hence in 2004, I tackled a new challenge and entered the business of turning used disposable diapers, which at the time was mainly incinerated as garbage, into fuel.
 

When I first learned of this technology, I didn’t imagine becoming a manufacturer myself. But since nobody was interested in commercializing this idea, I made the decision to develop the equipment (SFD system) and devote myself to creating a new market.

 

There were many naysayers who thought my idea of recycling diapers was impossible because of technical difficulties, current regulations, and incumbent interests by key players in the waste industry. Still, I felt strongly that it was our mission to break through those conventional ideas and introduce this important social business to the world.

 

I thought that if we had a clear mission, vision, and passion, we could definitely find a way to fulfill our goal. I named my company Super Faiths (`Faith` with `S`) to express our faith that we are an organization capable of cultivating this possibility and with utmost effort we can achieve our goal.

 

CSGE:

What inspired you to develop this SFD system? Did you already have a strong interest in social or environmental issues at that time?

Mr. Kimura, Super Faiths:

Nine years ago, I met my partners who were trying to tackle the problem of disposing used diapers.  Honestly speaking, prior to becoming acquainted with them, I had not paid any specific attention to the problem of diaper waste. Most people dispose of used diapers without much thought.  The problem is simply out of sight, out of mind. But as I delved deeper into the research I realized that this was indeed a serious issue. 

At that time, due to technological advancements, the use of disposable diapers was rapidly, replacing cloth diapers, especially among the elderly who suffer from incontinence. This was particularly true in Japan where their aging society was spurring a sharp increase in the consumption of disposable diapers.  The disposal of used diapers has tripled in volume and it is predicted to increase at an unbelievably high rate in the coming years.

 

In Japan, disposable diaper waste is incinerated as inflammable waste. But, it became obvious that handling (storage, collection, transportation and incineration) large volumes of wet, bad-smelling diaper waste will cause many problems, such as CO2 or methane emissions, hygiene risk and discomfort to the waste handlers, and damage to incinerators.

 

This practice of incinerating disposable diapers will have irreversible and serious consequences if measures are not taken against it. Several alternative ways of incineration have been tried but no method was practical. Therefore, at Super Faiths we decided to develop an alternative method.

 

CSGE:

Some technologies in the market dissolve used disposable diapers and turn them into recyclable substances. How is your company’s SFD system different from those technologies?

 

Mr. Kimura, Super Faiths:

SFDWhen we embarked on developing our technology, there were already existing industrial plants in operation focused on dissolving diapers to extract the pulp. But those plants were neither practical nor scalable due to factors such as high disposal costs and huge inefficient plant size.  After analyzing several existing methods, we decided to take two different approaches. First, we dealt with disposable diapers only, and no other waste.  Second, we focused on thermal recycling – harnessing the useful thermal energy from the incineration of waste instead of recycling the waste material itself.

 

As a result, this simple process of crushing, drying, and sterilizing diapers within a closed tank had high accuracy, safety standards and reproducibility rates.  In addition, since this process does not require any water, which also means no water discharge, the risk of dispersing infection is extremely low.  The final product material has the ability to produce 5,000 kcal/kg worth of energy and is safe to be reused.


CSGE:

How are you further developing your SFD system?

 

Mr. Kimura, Super Faiths:

For the past seven years, since we first installed two sets of our SFD machines at hospitals, we have been continually refining our technology. Although we were quite confident about the ability of our SFD system to treat used diapers, it was difficult to find an efficient use for the fuel outcome. It took time for us to find a good partner with the technology needed to solidify used diapers through a simplified solidification and combustion technology. We believe that this partnership makes implementing the sustainable recycling system within a community more feasible.


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CSGE:

In trying to create your new system and new market, you must have encountered challenges. How have you overcome those challenges? Also, what new challenges do you foresee in expanding your SFD system?

 

Mr. Kimura, Super Faiths:

There have been several barriers in front of us: weak public understanding regarding waste disposal problems; strong perceptions among government officials that incineration is the best way to dispose of diapers due to past failures of other disposal technologies; and lack of awareness of the effectiveness of thermal recycling.

 

Due to our continued perseverance, our system is now installed in several autonomous communities and public interest is increasing. Also, as a result of rising energy prices and the recent Fukushima nuclear plant accident, Japanese energy policy is being reviewed, and technology to turn waste into fuel is generally accepted. These circumstances have made our SFD system highly valued.

                  

In order to further increase demand for our technology, we need to step up our efforts to decrease both manufacturing and operating costs, and accelerate miniaturization of the machine size to meet customer needs while not compromising on quality. Since we are pioneers in this new market, we must deliver both products and service responsibly to ensure our customers have faith in us.


CSGE:

Please share your vision for developing your market in the near future.

 

Mr. Kimura, Super Faiths:

We are planning to expand within domestic market. At the same time, we are also receiving many business inquiries from overseas markets. In established markets such as Europe, disposable diapers are still disposed in landfills, which is different from Japan. This situation has created anxiety among concerned citizens. Disposable diaper manufacturers are also cautious about extended producer responsibility.

Also in emerging markets such as China, usage of disposable diapers is increasingly widespread, even before the proper infrastructure for waste disposal has been well developed. There is a growing concern that this will severely affect the sustainable ecosystem balance in the future. Given this context, many global manufacturers of disposable diapers strongly believe that they need to sustainably introduce their diapers with the environment in mind. 

Though we are still lacking in experience and human resources, we will continue to champion the use of our SFD system to deal with diaper disposal issues in the world. We are looking at exporting our products and patenting our technology. We are constantly looking for partnerships with local players with strengths in manufacturing, sales, collection, and energy recycling.

 

Note: This interview took place in October 2012.  For more information about Super Faiths Inc. visit their website at http://www.superfaiths.com/english/index.html.

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