Are Lead Acid Batteries Sustainable?

Lead-Acid Battery Icon

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"

USGS, Lead Statistics and Information

International Lead Association

Centers for Disease Control, Blood Lead Reference Value