January 28, 2014 7:00 pm JST

Toyota spruces up green credentials with battery recycling

Batteries installed on the roof of Nagoya Toyopet Otagawa in Tokai, Aichi Prefecture, help cut the dealership's electricity bill.

TOKYO -- Toyota Motor, already beloved of greens for its fuel-sipping Prius, is trying to burnish its environmental image further by developing ways to recycle batteries from hybrid cars and making its factories more energy efficient.

     The world's largest automaker by volume has come up with a way to recycle used batteries by incorporating them into stationary power-storage systems.

     The used batteries come from customer trade-ins. The cars themselves are sold to scrappers. The batteries are collected by a Toyota Tsusho subsidiary and turned over to Toyota Turbine and Systems.

     Toyota Turbine, which sells air conditioning and energy management systems, used to melt down the old car batteries and extract the nickel and rare metals to make new ones. But it decided to make use of the power cells without incinerating them because they have better heat-resistance and are more durable than general-purpose batteries.

     The company has developed technology that makes it possible to reuse the hybrid car batteries in stationary power-storage systems. It began selling these systems to Toyota dealerships last spring.

Cutting electricity bills in half

The carmaker's Nagoya Toyopet Otagawa dealership in Tokai, Aichi Prefecture is already using one of the new units. The dealership has installed two batteries that are taller than the average man on the roof. The recycled power cells are nickel-metal hydride batteries recovered from old Prius hybrids.

     The two batteries are composed of cells from 10 Prius cars each. Each battery has a storage capacity of 10 kilowatt-hours and a maximum output of 10kW. At a cost of around 3 million yen ($29,000) apiece, they are cheaper than comparable batteries using new power cells.

     The dealership uses the batteries during the daytime, when its electricity consumption rises. The rooftop batteries have helped Nagoya Toyopet Otagawa cut its electric bill for air-conditioning by half.

Second life

The groundbreaking Prius first rolled off the production line in 1997. By the end of 2013, Toyota had sold more than 6 million Priuses and other hybrid models worldwide. In the fiscal year ended March 2013, about 6,200 hybrid vehicles were brought to Toyota dealerships for scrapping, but the automaker forecasts that number will rise to more than 10,000 cars a year by 2017. Many owners of the second-generation Prius, which came out in 2003, are expected to begin trading them in by then.

     To deal with the expected mountain of used batteries, Toyota is working to improve its recycling system, which should also help lower their cost. The carmaker sees the recycling effort as an important part of staying competitive in an increasingly cutthroat eco-car market.

Make it better

Toyota is also trying to cut power consumption and greenhouse gas emissions at its plants. In the summer of 2012, the company installed eight gas-fired generators at a factory in Aichi Prefecture. It also adopted a system to monitor power consumption and on-site power generations at all plants.

    The Myochi Plant in Miyoshi, Aichi Prefecture, has reduced carbon dioxide emissions per vehicle by 10% and lowered peak electricity use by 30% by introducing energy-efficient production lines. Toyota plans to gradually roll out energy-saving technologies used at its factories in Japan at its overseas production bases as well.