The battery mountain myth

Since the beginning of sales of Honda hybrids in 1999, questions have been raised about the disposal of batteries should they ever need to be replaced, or at the end of the cars life. There were concerns that hybrid vehicles would generate a mountain of unwanted batteries or fill up landfill waste sites.

In reality battery packs contain metals that still have a value at the end of its useful life and can be recycled economically to create new battery packs or many other uses.

Honda dealers will take the returned packs and these are either recycled locally through battery recycling plants in the country or by Umicore who recycle batteries for Honda centrally.

The main metal recovered from the battery packs, Nickel is used in hundreds of applications and uses. The amount of Nickel used in battery production, is tiny in comparison to the global consumption of the metal for the production of alloys like steel. The economic value of Nickel means those that are removed outside of the Honda network will almost certainly find their way into a recycling facility to recover the recyclable material.

Energy usage in build as part of the lifecycle

Because hybrid vehicles have additional technology and hardware included over and above what is found in a conventional engined car, it has been incorrectly suggested that the energy consumed in building them outweighs the energy saved in use. Honda's own research shows that although a modest amount of extra energy is used in the build and disposal phase of the lifecycle, the savings in the use period are significantly greater than this extra energy.

A lifecycle analysis of the Civic Hybrid shown here, indicates that over a shorter than usual lifecycle of just 100,000 km, the overall energy used is 40% lower than for a conventional 1.8-litre Civic saloon. This is because the usage phase of the lifecycle uses far more energy (78%) than any other part and therefore energy saved during this critical phase has a bigger impact on the overall figure.

Honda is continually working on reducing the impact of its factories on the environment in a number of ways. One long-running target for Honda, has been to develop technologies to ensure that the manufacturing process is not just energy and cost efficient, but produces zero waste to landfill. This aim was set out by Honda's founder Soichiro Honda in 1956: "After materials are carried into the factory, nothing but products should be carried out from it.

At the time Mr. Honda made this bold statement there was little global interest in environmental issues or protection. Yet despite this, the founder firmly believed that Honda should avoid polluting the environment in the manufacturing or use of its products. Getting to zero waste to landfill was a very long process and one that required innovations, persistence and commitment. All Japanese Honda factories have now reached this target and all other Honda factories are scheduled to achieve this landmark by the end of 2010.

Efficient energy utilisation is a critical part of Honda's manufacturing philosophy and the Suzuka factory is an example of these continuing efforts. The factory roof is covered in a substantial solar array which contributes to the power needs of the plant, reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The Suzuka factory also uses a giant cogeneration unit, which is used to heat the factory and produce electricity at the same time. By using the energy from natural gas fuel more efficiently, the co-generation unit helps to reduce overall CO2 emissions by combining two processes. Generating electricity locally is also far more efficient as it cuts out the substantial power line losses that are experienced when electricity is used a great distance from where it is generated.

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