Japanese industrial giant Honda has developed a way of recycling rare earth metals from the used batteries of its hybrid vehicles.
Honda Motor Co and Japan Metals & Chemicals have set up what they say is the world’s first operation to extract and recycle rare earth metals – a set of 17 chemical elements – as part of a mass-production process at a recycling plant, rather than via a small-scale extraction in controlled and experimental conditions.
The metals will be recovered from used nickel-metal hydride batteries collected from Honda hybrid vehicles at dealers in Japan, North America and Europe.
Previously, Honda had been applying a heat treatment to used NiMH batteries and recycling nickel-containing scrap, for use as a raw material in stainless steel production. However, the successful stabilisation of the extraction process by Japan Metals & Chemicals has made it possible to extract approximately 80 per cent of rare earth metals contained in the batteries, with purity as high as that of newly mined and refined metals.
The company says it wants to use the metals in other products as well as new batteries. It will look to expand the recycling process to other used parts from across its product range in future.