Honda Recycles Rare Earths From Old Batteries

Honda announced that it has begun reusing the rare earth metals extracted from its old car batteries in an effort to recycle and keep down costs.

The carmaker said it had begun extracting the metals from the spent nickel-metal hydride batteries earlier this year. Honda said it planned to reuse the extracted metal in new batteries and for the construction of other car parts.

rare_earth_metals

image via MIT

In a further energy saving measure, the company said there were even plans to recover residual voltage from the spent batteries and use the leftover charge to power the disassembly process.

Rare earth metals are an important constituent part not just in electric vehicle (EV) batteries but in a range of clean energy technologies.

A conventional car, for example, uses just over a pound of rare earth materials – mostly in small motors – but electric cars can use nearly 10 times as much in their lightweight batteries and motors.  A single large wind turbine, meanwhile, rated at about 3.5 megawatts (MW) will typically contain about 1,300 pounds of rare earth metals.

Contrary to the name, the metals are not especially rare. However, since some of the most sought-after metals needed in wind and EV technology come mainly from China, where home demand is already high, and since global demand for clean teach is expected to rise dramatically in the coming years, the metals could eventually live up to their name.

Wind power, for example, which is one of the fastest-growing sources of emissions-free electricity, uses magnets that contain the rare earth element neodymium. According to recent research by scientists at MIT neodymium demand could increase by as much as 700 percent in the next quarter century.

Although about half of the known reserves of rare earth metals are in China, the U.S. also has significant deposits.

In addition to the nickel-metal hydride batteries, Honda said it was attempting to recycle metals extracted from hybrid motors and lithium-ion batteries. The car maker said it was just one part of a company-wide recycling policy, which it called the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) approach.

Paul Willis has been journalist for a decade. Starting out in Northern England, from where he hails, he worked as a reporter on regional papers before graduating to the cut-throat world of London print media. On the way he spent a year as a correspondent in East Africa, writing about election fraud, drought and an Ethiopian version of American Idol. Since moving to America three years ago he has worked as a freelancer, working for CNN.com and major newspapers in Britain, Australia and North America. He writes on subjects as diverse as travel, media ethics and human evolution. He lives in New York where, in spite of the car fumes and the sometimes eccentric driving habits of the yellow cabs, he rides his bike everywhere.