Honda Motor Company and the Japan Metals & Chemicals Company have confirmed the establishment of a world-first process to extract rare-earth metals from various used parts in Honda products.
The recycling process could, in the longer term, appease the current mercurial rare earths supply-demand cycle that depends on the mining of these 15 elements.
Rare earths are used in green-energy devices, such as wind turbines, electric and hybrid vehicles, as well as consumer and industrial electronics, such as iPads and television screens.
China effectively controls the rare earths market as it currently produces around 95% of all rare earths in the world. However, the Asian tiger has been in the habit of trimming export quotas – a move which has alarmed rare earths users, leaving them scrambling to secure supply.
These supply fears, as well as increased demand, have seen rare earths prices soar since the middle of 2010 – and not by single digits.
Honda’s reclamation process is not experimental, says the vehicle manufacturer, with the process rather an actual mass-production method conducted at a recycling plant.
Honda and Japan Metals & Chemicals began extracting rare earth metals from used nickel-metal hydride batteries in April.
The batteries used in the process are collected from Honda hybrid vehicles at Honda dealers inside and outside of Japan.
The new operation is the first in the world to extract rare-earth metals as part of a mass-production process at a recycling plant.
The successful stabilisation of the extraction process at the Japan Metals & Chemicals plant has made it possible to extract rare earth metals with a purity as high as that of newly mined and refined metals in a mass-production process, says Honda.
The newly established process enables the extraction of more than 80% of rare-earth metals contained in used nickel-metal hydride batteries.
An average nickel-metal hydride battery used in a typical hybrid vehicle contains around 12 kg of rare-earth metals.
Honda is planning to use the extracted rare-earth metals in the manufacturing of new nickel-metal hydride batteries, as well as for a wide range of Honda products.
However, the new process will also allow Honda to expand the recycling of rare-earth metals beyond nickel-metal hydride batteries, states the company.
“This is in line with the company’s long-established commitment to the so-called 3R approach: reduce, reuse and recycle.”
Honda says it was the first Japanese automaker to begin sales of recycled parts and to collect and recycle oil filters and replaced bumpers.