Honda plans battery recycling network as hybrids take off

Honda Motor will soon begin collecting and recycling lithium-ion batteries used in its hybrid vehicles across Japan, tackling a waste problem that is growing with interest in eco-friendly cars.

The Japanese automaker plans to obtain by the spring of 2017 a permit from the Environment Ministry for collecting and processing industrial waste — its own used batteries — across prefectural lines, becoming the first among its contemporaries to do so.

Honda will tap Tohoku University, known for recycling research, as well as Japan Metals & Chemicals, as its partners to create a prototype plant within three years. The goal is to perfect technologies for removing pure substances from battery waste for less than it would ordinarily cost to incinerate the devices.

The recycling process will involve discharging the batteries, being careful not to set them aflame, before separating out their electrolytes and recovering around 80% of their rare-metal content. Those substances are to be refashioned into the base material for nickel-metal hydride batteries and other products. Once the process is locked down, battery intake centers will be set up nationwide, and the reuse system commercialized.

Hybrid vehicles’ improved fuel economy over standard cars have made them a growing market fixture since Toyota Motor introduced the first commercial hybrid in 1997. Some 4.68 million hybrids were on Japan’s roads in March 2015 — around 8% of all vehicles in the country and five times the level five years earlier.

Hybrid cars accounted for 27% of Honda’s domestic sales in fiscal 2015. The number of vehicles reaching the end of their usable lives is expected to surge post-2020, making recycling of valuable resources a pressing responsibility as battery output continues to climb.

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