Honda first to recycle hybrid car batteries

With global stocks of rare earth materials dwindling, Honda has released plans to effectively harvest the materials used in its own hybrid car batteries
 Honda President Takanobu Ito unveiled the process

In a report released yesterday, the Japanese car manufacturer stated that it will be starting to recycle rare earth materials from Nickel-Metal-Hydride batteries found in the company’s range of hybrid cars. Honda’s Environmental Annual Report 2012 laid out the company’s plans for reducing CO2 emissions, as well as other harmful gases, lowering the amount of waste created by company and increasing levels of recycling.

With Honda wanting to extend its range of ‘green’ hybrid vehicles, they are relying on importing rare-earth materials from China, who supply over 90 percent of the world’s total to market, even though their own supplies account for just 25 percent.

As well as automotive batteries, the 17 rare earth materials are also used in the manufacturing of many electronic devices which have become common place the world over, including Yttrium (used in TVs and microwave filters), Lanthanum (used to produce camera lenses), Gadolinium (found in computer memories and MRI machines) and Thulium (a component of some X-ray machines).


Though on the surface Honda’s initiative to recycle the rare earth materials from their own products looks to be driven by the company’s continuing efforts to become ever-more environmentally sustainable, a leading factor may have been a recent statement by the Chinese government.

In the white paper, Situation and Policies of China’s Rare Earth Industry, the Chinese state that rare earth reserves have been declining at a worrying rate, increased by the global demand for ever-better gadgets. As is almost always the case, the reduced supply, in the face of growing demand, will no doubt lead to a far higher price, a price many are seeking to avoid.   

To alleviate supply concerns, Honda has partnered with Japan Metals & Chemicals to create a rare earth metals recycling process capable of providing materials almost as pure as those initially used on a mass-scale. The process, states the company, is able to extract 80 percent or more of the rare earth elements used in Nickel-Metal-Hydride batteries, which can then be used to produce more batteries. Though primarily focusing on batteries, Honda also expects to use the same process to recycle other components found in its products, such as in-car electronics.

Officials from Honda have stated that the new recycling technology will come into effect in either September or October this year, becoming the first of its kind in the automotive industry, and is just part of broader push by the company to try to reduce pollution and global warming.


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