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Honda Motor plans to launch ferroalloy production by 2025

Tokyo — Japanese automaker Honda Motor plans to launch production of nickel-cobalt alloy by 2025, using spent lithium ion batteries as feedstock, a company executive said Friday.

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Honda's hybrid passenger vehicle models are mounted with lithium ion batteries. "From 2025, a significant volume of spent lithium ion batteries will become available for recycling. We would like to be ready with our processing plant by that point of time," said Tomokazu Abe, General Manager of Cyclical Resource Promotion Division. Abe spoke at the Resource Recycling Expo held in Tokyo on Friday.

Currently, Honda produces 14 hybrid passenger vehicle models. Hybrid car sales account for 26% of Honda's sales, which were 747,177 vehicles sold in 2018, according to the company. "In 2030, Honda is likely to produce 300,000 vehicles with lithium ion batteries," Abe said.

Honda's plan is to produce nickel-cobalt alloy using cathode of the spent batteries, and targets hydrogen storage market.

"From one Fit (passenger car model), we are able to recover Yen 4,000 ($36) worth of nickel and cobalt, on the basis of 2017 market prices," he said.

The company has achieved nickel recovery rate of 99.7%, cobalt 91.3%, and manganese 94.8% so far.

"There is fear over possible shortages of nickel and cobalt and recycling cost will be reduced [a few years from now]," he said. He estimated current metal recovery cost from spent batteries at Yen 100/kg. Sources at recycling firms, however, said current cost was higher due to inefficiencies, resulting from limited spent battery supplies and lack of established techniques.

Abe said recycling cost could be reduced by controlling transport costs and using robots to dismantle cars.

Honda plans to market the secondary alloy as metal hydride, or MH, alloy used for hydrogen storage tank, Abe said.

Japan's MH alloy demand is seen to multiply in the coming years, an official at Japan Steel Works said. The company has been producing the alloy and hydrogen storage tanks for over 30 years.

Orders for hydrogen storage tanks were limited to a dozen units per year but they will multiply to 100 units in the coming year as municipalities and government agencies launch pilot projects aimed to develop alternative energy sources, Hideaki Itoh, JSW Deputy Director of New Business Promotion told S&P Global Platts.

"Hydrogen is a fad, and this is not limited to Japan," Itoh said. Hydrogen, that can be stored, is seen as a reliable energy source compared to wind and solar energy affected by weather, he said.

Companies are also investing in hydrogen projects. "Construction companies and various sectors, except agriculture," Itoh said.

JSW hydrogen tanks are made of MH alloy comprising 60% nickel, 30% lanthanum and cerium, and 10% silicone resin. "Nickel alloy expands when in contact with hydrogen, and resin is added to control it," he said.

A storage tank with a diameter of 4,200 mm and height of 550 mm uses 4 tons of the alloy, according to JSW.

-- Mayumi Watanabe, mayumi.watanabe@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Ikhhlaq Singh Aujla, newsdesk@spglobal.com

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