Honda Introduces Rare Metal Extraction Program

Talk about recycling and reinventing! Three hundred eight-six Honda hybrid vehicles stored for sale were made unusable by the March 2011 earthquake that led to a devastating tsunami. But all was not lost. The rare metal from nickel-metal hydride batteries could be extracted and put to new use.

Extracting rare metals from the earth involves mining and the environmental impact the process entails. But reusing them can help curb demand by companies that need them. Japanese automaker Honda is spearheading a process to reuse rare earth metals extracted from nickel metal hydride batteries for new ones in a bid to preserve precious and finite resources.

The initiative has been put in place at the plant of Japan Metals & Chemicals (JMC), where Honda has been extracting an oxide containing rare earth metals from used nickel-metal hydride batteries. Honda has succeeded in extracting metalized rare earth that can be used directly as negative-electrode materials for those batteries.

The good news is that the rare earth metals extracted in this process have a purity of more than 99%, which is as high as that of ordinary traded, newly mined rare earth metals. In addition, the new process enables the extraction of as much as above 80% of rare earth metals contained in nickel-metal hydride battery.

Starting early March, the extracted rare earth metals are being supplied from JMC to a battery manufacturer, which will reuse them as negative-electrode materials for nickel-metal hydride batteries for hybrid vehicles. This first batch came from the vehicles rendered useless by the earthquake.

The plans go further. As soon as a sufficient volume is secured, Honda said it will begin applying the same process and recycle rare earth metals extracted from used nickel-metal hydride batteries collected by Honda dealers through battery replacement.

Honda said it will try to extract rare earth metals not only from nickel-metal hydride batteries but also from various used parts to increase the volume of material being recycled.

Image credit: Honda