Honda's reduce-reuse-recycle of rare earth materials

Honda shows huge environmental gains in CO2 reduction and rare earth metal recycling

Honda's quest for a clean transportation system does not stop at tailpipe emissions, but includes a broad spectrum of sustainability measures including water use reduction, elimination of waste going to landfills, and recycling efforts including extraction of rare earth metals from critical parts.

In order to address climate change and energy issues, Honda has focused for years on reducing CO2 emissions, other greenhouse gas reduction, reduction on the "waste" output created by the company, and recycling materials in Honda's products. An example is the plan announced two months ago to recycle rare earth metals from Nickel-Metal-Hydride batteries in the company's hybrid cars.
Honda Automotive released, yesterday, the Honda Environmental Annual Report 2012 summarizing results of the company's environmental initiatives.

A leading item, which warranted its own press release, is Honda's plan to recycle rare earth metals. Honda reiterated the plan to start, by the end of this year, recycling nickel-metal-hydride car batteries to extract the rare earth metals in those batteries. The company is also striving for, and researching, methods to extract similar rare earth metals from the company's other products, including from lithium ion batteries and the magnets in high powered electric motors.

So-called rare earth metals have this name because of the relative scarcity of mineral deposits with a high enough concentration to be worth mining. They are widely used in electronic gizmos, and in electric vehicles are highly prized for the high power magnets used in some electric motor designs. There is a geopolitical concern stemming from China's success at cornering the market for supplying rare earth metals, largely because Chinese suppliers have undercut all others. There is a concern in many quarters about trading a dependence on fossil oil from foreign countries who aren't friendly to the west, for a dependence on rare earth metals from another foreign country who isn't entirely friendly to the west.

While many companies are looking to restart rare earth metal production outside of China, efforts to recycle these metals should be part of the solution. The paradigm of "use once and throw away" dooms civilization to eventual demise because of the ever expanding amount of land devoted to landfills, and the inevitable "we'll run out of ___fill in the blank___" if nothing is ever recycled.

Honda's recycling program extends beyond rare earth metals to include items such as bumpers, and used oil filters. Honda intends to continue expanding efforts to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle throughout the company. The company has an ASR (Automotive Shredder Residue) Recyling goal of over 70%, and is achieving a 93% recycling rate. In Motorcycles the goal is to reach an effective recycling rate of 95% by 2015, and that rate stands currently at 87.7%.

The company has a goal of reducing CO2 emissions across its entire product line by 30% before 2020, versus the fiscal year ended March 31, 2001. By the end of March 2012, the company had reached a 9.5% reduction in CO2 emissions from automobiles, a 24.5% reduction in motorcycles, and a 13.5% reduction in CO2 emissions from "power products" (generators).

For corporate activities the company goal is a 5% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2014, and in logistics the goal is a 10% CO2 emissions reduction. The company has already reached a 4.9% reduction, and in logistics has reached an 18.4% reduction.

Another corporate goal was to maintain "zero waste to landfill for all consolidated operations" for all corporate activities, and Honda is doing so.

Honda's water use reduction goal is a 5% reduction, and the company has already achieved an 18.9% reduction in water use. While the planet is covered in water, little of it is available as potable, drinkable, clean water fit for human consumption. As population grows, water supply is becoming an ever-greater concern and every effort to recycle water, or reduce its use, stretches the supply.

Finally, there are volatile organic compounds, such as toluene and xylene, released while painting automobiles or motorcycles. Honda's goal is a 30% reduction in VOC release by the end of March 2014, and the company has already achieved a 42.4% reduction.

Honda has long prided itself as an environmentally responsible corporation, and these numbers seem to validate that image.