Japanese auto maker Honda has announced that it will soon be starting the first commercial effort to recycle rare earth metals from used parts. The company is partnering with Japan Metals & Chemicals to implement a process that it says can recover over 80 percent of the valuable trace minerals from nickel-metal hydride batteries like those used in many hybrid cars. It's also possible the technique could be used for other parts, although Honda doesn't elaborate on what those are.

These techniques have apparently been tried in the lab before, but Honda says it will be creating the first commercial-scale recovery system. By the end of April, it plans to collect used hybrid batteries from Honda dealers and recycle the rare earths inside, turning them into new parts for its cars. Rare earths are used in electronics, magnets, and batteries all over the world, but their production is highly concentrated in China, and export quotas have caused prices to spike. In response, companies like Honda and Hitachi are trying to either reduce demand or — as in this case — increase their own supply.