Although they consume less gasoline than traditional models, hybrid cars can hurt the environment in another way: by using up precious rare earth metals in order to build the batteries. To combat this, Honda plans to institute a recycling program to recover these materials from its hybrid vehicles.
Starting at the end of this month, Honda will work with Japan Metals & Chemicals to extract rare earth metals from nickel-metal hydride batteries removed from Honda hybrid cars. The batteries will be sourced from Honda hybrids sold in Japan and around the world. Honda says its operation will be the first such mass-production effort to recycling these metals.
A new process pioneered by Honda and Japan Metals & Chemicals reportedly can extract about 80 percent of metals from used batteries, and the metals are said to be as pure as "newly mined and refined" materials. That means the recovered elements are suitable for use in a variety of products -- not only building more NiMH batteries, but also potentially using the rare earth metals in other applications.
Honda notes that it also collects and recycles oil filters, used bumpers, and other parts. When customers have the batteries in their hybrid cars replaced at dealers, the used or defective battery will be shipped off to be recycled for use in a new product.