Part of determining a product’s overall impact on the environment includes analyzing its total lifecycle and components. As an example, there has been considerable attention given to the reduced environmental impact of conventional hybrid vehicles as an end-product. But what about the environmental impact of their components, in particular, nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries?
Fortunately, NiMH batteries typically last eight to ten years, or about three times longer than conventional car batteries. Although we are still several years away from experiencing a high demand for recycling rechargeable NiMH batteries, with one million hybrids in the U.S., a new recycling industry is emerging.
Honda and Toyota are not only leading the way in addressing the recycling of NiMH batteries, but they are spending millions of dollars researching Lithium Ion batteries that promise a lower environmental impact for next-generation hybrids, according to Hybridcars.com.
Toll-free phone numbers on hybrid battery packs help make it easy for a consumer to return a battery to a car dealer, who in turn, can recycle it. Toyota even offers a $200 incentive to owners who return end-of-life hybrid batteries.
Progress in this emerging recycling effort is evolving. In a joint venture, Honda and Japan Metals and Chemicals Co. have developed a new technology that extracts for reuse 80 percent of the rare earth metals from batteries. The extracted metals are pure enough to be reused in new battery production.
A study by Environmental Defense on the environmental impacts of conventional batteries determined that lead was the most harmful, followed by nickel, then lithium. Because lithium-ion battery packs still operate at 80 percent capacity after retirement, major power utilities are working with auto companies to develop aftermarket options. One option being explored is stationary storage of power produced by wind and solar stations.
I am amazed by the endless possibilities and ingenuity that emerge when proactive companies share total life-cycle analysis as a common goal.