Reduce, reuse, and recycle — the three Rs of waste management have been applicable for decades. Until now, however, they have not been quite so useful for the large-scale nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) batteries used in hybrid cars, in part due to the difficulty in recovering nickel and cobalt (rare earth metals). Honda appears to have solved the hybrid battery recycling problem, in conjunction with Japan Metals and Chemicals (JMC) Co., Ltd. — the two companies now have a mass production line for a recycling plant specifically for the hybrid batteries.
The availability of the rare earth metals used in said batteries is a question of limited resources — there’s a finite amount of each element on Earth and they’re also not really that easy to dig out of the ground and refine. China has the monopoly on that market for the moment, prompting Siemens to start a research project last year to recycle old electric motors. Now it’s time for the batteries to be put back into service.
Stainless Steel Scrap With Extra Bits
The current recycling standard involves treating Ni-MH batteries with heat and using the results as stainless steel scrap metal; a much lower value per pound for the recycler and also not a source of the rare earth metals essential for battery production. Honda and JMC have developed a new technology that lets them get the stainless steel back, but after successfully extracting the rare earth metal from the batteries in question for reuse. The recovered metal is even equivalent in purity to that mined and refined in China. Check out the chart below for how it works:
Getting any of the rare earth metals back out of the batteries at all would be cause enough for celebration, but Honda and JMC have actually been able to extract upwards of 80% of the rare earth metals put in the battery in the first place. Honda plans to use their fabulous new resource (gathered from both domestic and international dealers) to not only make new batteries but a wide range of other products as well.
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