Yesterday, Honda Motor Co. announced that it would begin recycling rare earths and other materials present in hybrid vehicle batteries beginning this fall.
Although there has already been talk about the process, by instigating a plan to begin operations this September or October, Honda says it will be the first automaker to do so.
The news comes as China continues to defend its stance on reducing exports of rare earths (the country accounts for 30 percent of global deposits but 90 percent of production). At present Japan is hugely reliant on Chinese exports for rare earths, used in the manufacturing of high tech devices.
Another motivating factory in the push to recycle rare earths, stems from uncertainty regarding Japan’s own energy policies, especially following the disastrous earthquake and Tsunami that struck the country last year.
A fallout from the disaster was radiation leakage from the Fukushima nuclear reactor, which resulted in Japan shutting down every other nuclear power facility located in the Home Islands.
Honda, which suffered arguably more than any other Japanese automaker at the hands of the disaster (it severely disrupted supply chains and production, curbing sales and thus profits), says it’s actively pursuing plans for renewable energy sources that won’t harm the environment.
Honda’s President, Takanobu Ito, has said part of the company’s objectives to do so include developing solar energy and fuel cell technology.
Although fuel cell technology is still very expensive and infrastructure challenges remain, Honda and some other automakers, notably Mercedes-Benz have been aggressively working on developing the technology for practical, real world vehicle applications, developing not only the vehicles themselves but working with other organizations to develop an infrastructure to support them. Honda introduced the world’s first fuel cell vehicle, the original FCX, back in 2002 and currently has its successor, the FCX Clarity being evaluated by a limited number of retail customers.
The FCX Clarity, which delivers a 240-mile EPA certified driving range and a five-minute refueling time, was introduced last year and is also significant, in being the first fuel cell vehicle to ever pace an Indy Car race (the 2011 Honda Grand Prix in St Petersburg, Florida).
Ito said that Honda’s push towards sustainability lies at the root of the company’s culture. He said that Founder Soichiro Honda regularly emphasized that the auto industry must share responsibility for reducing vehicle emissions, a concept which began with the introduction of its Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion (CVCC) technology. Back in the 1970s, CVCC enabled its cars, notably the original Civic and Accord, to meet U.S. smog standards without the need for catalytic converters.