Lead-acid batteries sit under the bonnet of pretty much every car in the world, but we barely give them a thought unless they go flat. Each car battery contains about 12 kg of lead. With over one billion cars on the world’s roads, that’s around 12 million tonnes of lead in cars alone. On top of that, lead-acid batteries are also commonly used in remote area power supplies, for example as part of off-grid solar power systems, in submarines and in electric boats.
Lead-acid batteries were invented in 1859 by Frenchman Gaton Planté, making them the world’s oldest rechargeable battery technology.
Compared with modern rechargeable batteries, lead-acid batteries are heavy, and don’t store much energy for their weight. Lead-acid batteries contain a couple of nasty components – lead, a toxic metal, and sulphuric acid. Modern, sealed designs that contain gels rather than liquids reduce the risk of injury from the acid component.
On the plus side, lead-acid batteries are reliable, relatively cheap and enjoy a very high recycling rate.
The main components of lead-acid batteries are lead, polypropylene (the plastic casing) and sulphuric acid. The lead and polypropylene are reused in the production of new batteries. The sulphuric acid is easily neutralised to sodium sulphate, which is used in fertiliser and detergent manufacture.
What Are The Economics?
With the value of the recovered materials greater than the costs involved in recycling batteries, the economics are positive. Recycling companies will usually buy old lead-acid batteries. This is a big reason why lead-acid batteries enjoy such a high recycling rate – over 95% in some countries.
That’s good, but needs to be better. After all, with over a billion batteries is out there, a 5% dumping rate is still a lot of lead.
Other articles in this series:
Ecocycle Are A Battery Recycler
Ecocycle is a full service battery recycler. So if you’ve got any old batteries that you want to throw out, get in touch with us, and help keep harmful substances out of our environment.