Are Lead Acid Batteries Sustainable?
Lead-acid batteries were the workhorse of the twentieth century: they provided the portable power necessary to start cars and back-up power for critical systems, such as telephone exchanges.
FACTOID: EVERY CAR (EVEN MANY ELECTRIC CARS) RELY ON A 40 POUND LEAD-ACID BATTERY AS A STARTER BATTERY.
To meet those demands, the industry has been manufacturing lead-acid batteries on the scale of “Gigafactories” for decades. The history of lead-acid batteries — how they have been sourced, used, and recycled — offers a window into the implications of a battery-powered clean energy future.
FACTOID: IN 2020, 1.2 MILLION METRIC TONS OF LEAD WERE RECYCLED IN THE US.
Today, the most important source of lead for new lead-acid batteries is not mines. It is recycled lead-acid batteries. Close to 100 percent of batteries in the U.S. are recycled. No industry has come closer to “closing the loop” and creating a circular economy.
FACTOID: 1 IN 3 CHILDREN WORLDWIDE IS ESTIMATED TO BE AFFECTED BY LEAD POISONING.
But how lead-acid batteries are recycled remains an urgent concern. In some cases, they are recycled at tightly regulated secondary lead smelters. When they are not recycled safely, they pose a grave threat to human health.
What does Charged say about the role of lead-acid batteries in the twentieth century and prospects for a clean-energy future? Read an excerpt from chapter one below:
Additional sources about lead-acid batteries:
Battery Council International, National Recycling Rate Study.
Battery University, "How does a lead-acid battery work?"
Commission for Environmental Cooperation, "Hazardous Trade?"
Occupational Knowledge, "Lead Battery Recycling"
Centers for Disease Control, Blood Lead Reference Value