Japanese firms, including Toyota, develop rare earth recycling

The Nikkei reports that Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is teaming up with Toyota and other major Japanese manufacturers to develop technology for recovering and recycling rare-earth metals. It could eventually allow Japan to slash its rare earth imports by at least 10 percent by 2025.

Currently, Japan relies on China for approximately 80 percent of its rare earth elements. Those elements are commonly used in electric motors found in electric vehicles, and the nickel-metal hydride batteries used in many hybrids. By recovering and recycling rare earths, Japan hopes to slash that 80-percent figure.

In 2011, the United States House Armed Services Committee passed a defense authorization bill that laid the groundwork for a national rare earth elements stockpile, similar to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The move was also motivated China’s dominance of rare earths production and its move in recent years to limit exports on the minerals.

For the past few years, Toyota, Honda and Ford, among others, have been developing strategies to mitigate reliance on rare earth elements. Those strategies include stockpiling and using induction motors. Tesla does not use rare earth metals in the Model S’s battery or motor. The upcoming Toyota RAV4 EV, produced by Tesla and Toyota, also uses a rare-earth-free induction motor.

Recycling is an additional strategy. “Under the initiative, automakers and home-appliance manufacturers will tap government subsidies to establish a technology for recovering rare-earth metals from discarded motors and electronics,” according to the Nikkei report. “The ministry will earmark the necessary expenses in its fiscal 2013 budget request. The goal is to have the technology adopted in fiscal 2014. The manufacturers hope to have recycled rare earths account for around 10 percent of national demand by fiscal 2025.”

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