Honda, REEs And Recycling.

During the week Honda announced, cynics would say yet again, that it had made a major rare earth elements recycling breakthrough, and will start recycling REEs from nickel-metal hydride batteries, on a mass-production basis from the end of the month.  An underwhelmed Phys.org report commented dryly “The press announcement carries a simple diagram of the recycling flow between dealers and factory, but with few details about how the process actually works.”

I’m not quite so underwhelmed. Recycling doesn’t always make financial sense, and in this case the economics may be questionable too, but Honda’s dealers have to collect the batteries anyway, and something has to be done with them once collected. Trying to recycle the REEs in short supply and open to the supply whim of China, makes logical sense, even if there might be very little profit in it for all involved.

In Japan’s case there’s a further complication. Since the nuclear disaster at Fukushima-Daiichi, all of Japans nuclear power plants are closed down, with brownouts expected during the peak coming summer season just like last year. Nuclear power previously supplied about 30% of Japan’s electricity, and replacing it isn’t possible in the short term. The government has just authorised two nuclear power plants to restart, but they now face the daunting task of getting approval from the local prefectures. The Japanese public is now almost 100% against restarting any reactors.

This REE recycling effort makes more sense anywhere outside of Japan, but Honda has to go with the cards it was dealt. In the overall scheme of REE demand, this one effort at recycling is unlikely to make much of a difference. On the other hand though, the experienced gained will be useful ahead for the days when exotic battery disposal moves from a novelty to become a necessity. It will be interesting to follow how this unfolds over the coming year.

Honda will recycle rare-earth metals from batteries
April 19, 2012 by Nancy Owan

(Phys.org) — Honda Motor Co. this week made news with its announcement of a recycling breakthrough. The car maker, which manufactures hybrid vehicles, will start recycling rare-earth metals from the nickel-metal hydride batteries of its used hybrid cars on a mass-production basis.

Honda says its process move is a world-first–in that its decision does not merely involve a research experiment but rather a process that will be done on a mass production basis at a central recycling plant. The recycling will start very soon; Honda says the work is to begin at the end of this month. The process allows for the recovery of more than 80 percent of the rare-earth metals used in the nickel-metal hydride batteries. The process involves extractions coming from used batteries from Honda hybrids at Honda dealers inside and outside Japan.

The technology is a result of the company’s collaboration with Japan Metals & Chemicals (JMC), a company based in Tokyo. The press announcement carries a simple diagram of the recycling flow between dealers and factory, but with few details about how the process actually works.