Honda has devised a way, the first process of its kind, to extract the rare earth metals from used batteries and other products, recycling them to be made into new batteries.
Electric and hybrid electric vehicles, in themselves are, without a doubt, cleaner vehicles. In operation, they have fewer, even zero, emissions when compared to their petroleum-fueled counterparts. Lifecycle emissions, are another matter entirely, and this has led to some controversy as to the greenness of electric vehicles specifically.
Charging from the grid, of course, generates some greenhouse gas emissions depending on the source, but the batteries themselves are also an issue. Greenhouse gases aside, the mining of rare earth metals also generates other kinds of pollution.
Recycling, though, reduces the need to mine the original materials, such as aluminum, which can often be recycled 100% and turned into new aluminum products, requiring less time and energy, and therefore greenhouse gas emissions, than using raw aluminum ore.
According to Honda, they can extract over 80% of rare earth metals from used batteries at better than 99% purity, which is the same as traded from the mines after refining. The extracted metals are then used to make new electrodes in new batteries, reducing the required new materials to less than 20%.
The first batch of batteries that the process was applied to were batteries from 386 Honda hybrid vehicles that were disabled by the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami, nearing its second anniversary, March 11. Honda plans on expanding the recycling program to include other sourced of rare earth metals, including electric motors and used batteries from dealers and scrap yards.