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Honda Recycles Rare Earth Metals for New Batteries

Honda has announced that it has established the world’s first process for reusing rare earth metals, which are extracted from used nickel-metal hydride batteries in order to build new ones. This process could go a long way toward the overall sustainability of electric vehicles, as the rare earth elements are a crucial part of the technology behind energy storage for transport.

Instead of mining ‘virgin’ rare earth metals, with all of the attendant environmental burdens, Honda has been extracting an oxide composed of these materials from nickel-metal (Ni-MH) batteries that are at their end-of-life.

The process used by the company employs molten salt electrolysis to separate the rare earth metals, which have a purity of over 99%, which is comparable to the same new materials now on the market.

The recovered metals are able to be used directly as materials for the negative electrodes of new nickel-metal hydride batteries. In addition to helping to conserve natural resources through reduced demand for virgin materials, this new practice also enables the company to recover 80% of the rare earth metals in the batteries, again reducing the environmental burden for older battery systems.

According to ENS, the first batch of batteries that Honda used for rare earth metal extraction was collected from 386 of their hybrid vehicles that were damaged in the Great East Japan Earthquake in March of 2011, and the company will be collecting them through their dealer network for future extractions.

Honda also stated that they aim to extract rare earth metals from other types of used parts as a part of their commitment to “reduce the environmental footprint of the mobility society as a whole”.

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