Laureates of the Japan Prize
The 2012 (28th) Japan Prize
Environment, Energy and Infrastructure
Developing the world's highest performing Nd-Fe-B type permanent magnet and contributing to energy conservation
Dr. Masato Sagawa pursued research on new permanent magnet material from an entirely different approach to the conventional magnetic material research, and in 1982, discovered Nd-Fe-B (Neodymium-Iron-Boron) type magnet composition with maximum energy product almost double that of traditional Sm-Co (Samarium-Cobalt) magnets. For practical realization, however, Nd-Fe-B type magnets had to initially overcome variety of problems such as sudden reduction of magnetic coercivity under high temperatures, fragility and performance loss during use through oxidation. In order to address these problems, Dr. Sagawa, undertook research to find the additive element that could help sustain magnetic coercivity under high temperatures along with its optimal amount, developed a manufacturing technique for sintered magnets with high level of mechanical strength and developed a surface treatment technique that can prevent oxidation, thereby succeeding in turning Nd-Fe-B type magnets into an industrial material with wide applications. It is said that the advantages of Nd-Fe-B type magnets over other magnetic materials are so great that superior permanent magnet materials will not come by so easily.
Motors that use the Nd-Fe-B type magnets developed by Dr. Sagawa are smaller, lighter and more efficient than traditional induction motors. Its wide application in appliances and machines such as air conditioners, refrigerators, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, elevators, conveyers, machine tools and heavy construction machinery has been a significant contribution towards energy conservation. With large percentage of word's electricity demand generated by motors (57% in Japan as of 2005), switching from traditional motors to high efficiency motors that use Nd-Fe-B type magnets will help to conserve considerable amount of energy. Furthermore, the magnets have come to be widely used in the highly-efficient generators of wind-power plants, considered to be the up-and-coming energy technology for countering global warming, as well as in all the motors of hybrid and electric cars which are spreading rapidly in recent years. Through these practical applications, its contribution towards energy conservation and CO2 emission reduction will be even greater.
In addition, Nd-Fe-B type magnets are widely used in Voice Coil Motor of computer Hard Drives which are required to be small and highly functional as well as in mobile phone speakers. Nd-Fe-B type magnets also enabled the development of compact magnetic field generators that do not require cooling. As a result, medical MRI machines have come to be in wider use because of the significant reduction in size and cost.
Dr. Sagawa, with his bold ideas that go beyond the corporate framework, contributed greatly to the advancement of research in this field through dedicated fundamental research and building of research community with university researchers. As a businessman, he is widely respected for his dynamic technological development through which he realized its practical application, and for his activities that realized the prevalence of this technology.
It is for these extraordinary achievements that Dr. Masato Sagawa is deemed most eminently deserving of the 2012 Japan Prize given to honor contributions in the fields of "Environment, Energy, and Infrastructure".