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Efficient Technology

Recyclable and Efficient

Lead batteries are one of the biggest recycling success stories of our lifetime. When we think of highly recyclable products, items like glass, plastic and newspaper usually come to mind. However, the battery chemistry that starts your car, stores power to enhance renewable energy utilization, backs up critical data centers, and keeps the warehouse industry moving has one of the highest recycling rates in the world.

Meeting the growing U.S. energy demand requires efficient energy storage technologies. Today's lead batteries provide the answer, 24/7. They are the proven energy storage leader for vital industries, such as transportation, energy and communications. Compared to other storage options, lead batteries are more affordable and sustainable. According to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2014 Fact Sheet, 99% of all lead batteries are recycled, making them the most recycled good in the U.S. 

The life cycle of a lead battery follows a closed loop, and the average new lead battery is made with 60-80% recycled lead and plastic. When a spent battery is collected and returned to a permitted recycling facility, its lead and plastic are reclaimed and used to create a new battery. During the recycling process, a battery is separated into three distinct components. The lead is smelted and refined for use in new batteries. The plastic case is recovered, cleaned and molded into new battery cases. The used acid is recycled for reuse in battery products as well as the glass industry.

Learn more in our Recycling and Sustainability Brochure, or view our Lead Battery Recycling Process video.

In addition, technological advances in lead batteries continue to increase their life cycle, storage capacity and overall performance to meet our future energy needs in key sectors.

In transportation, a billion vehicles worldwide use lead batteries to start their engines and power on-board electronics. All fuel-efficient hybrid and fully electric vehicles also require advanced lead batteries in conjunction with other battery technologies. Collectively, the new generation of start-stop vehicles that use an advanced lead battery can provide significant fuel savings.

Within the energy sector, lead batteries store renewable energy generated by cleaner, greener sources like wind and solar. These industrial lead batteries are the world’s most scalable, economic way to load the grid and reliably supply emergency back-up power during outages. This ensures critical medical, data and security services continue to operate.

Many of our communication systems, like cell phone and internet services, would be severely affected without lead batteries. They safeguard most of the world’s fixed and mobile phone networks and IT infrastructure, delivering around-the-clock emergency power.

Put simply, the dynamic benefits and sustainability of lead batteries make them the smart choice for solving the energy storage needs of today and the emerging technology needs of tomorrow.

Alternative Battery Chemistries

Battery Chemistries

When the French scientist, Gaston Plante, invented the lead battery in 1859, he could not have envisioned the critical role his creation would play today in transportation, communication, electric utilities and as emergency backup systems. Without them, 21st century life would not be possible. 

The development of more and more battery-powered devices and applications has fueled demand for new and different battery chemistries. Researchers have been looking for a chemistry that is powerful, long-lived, safe, inexpensive, lightweight and recyclable.

Following is a brief summary of lead and alternate battery chemistries and their advantages and disadvantages.

Lead

Advantages: This chemistry has been proven over more than 140 years. Batteries of all shapes and sizes, available in sealed and maintenance-free products, are mass-produced today. In their price range, lead batteries provide the best value for power and energy per kilowatt-hour, have the longest life cycle and a large environmental advantage in that they are recycled at an extraordinarily high rate. (97% of the lead is recycled and reused in new batteries.) No other chemistry can touch the infrastructure that exists for collecting, transporting and recycling lead batteries.

Disadvantages: Lead is heavier compared to some alternative elements used in other technologies; however, certain efficiencies in current conductors and other advances continue to improve on the power density of a lead battery's design.

Lithium-ion 

Advantages: It has a high specific energy (the number of hours of operation for a given weight) making it a huge success for mobile applications such as phones and notebook computers.

Disadvantages: More expensive than lead. The cost differential is not as apparent with small batteries for phones and computers, and owners of these devices may not realize that they are paying much more per stored kilowatt hour than other chemistries. However, because automotive batteries are larger, the cost becomes more significant. In addition, currently there is no established system for recycling large lithium-ion batteries. Circuit protection is required to keep current and temperature within safe levels.

Lithium Iron Phosphate 

Addresses the safety concern of lithium-ion but at a lower energy density level. 

Nickel-cadmium 

Advantages: This chemistry is reliable, can operate in a range of temperatures, tolerates abuse well and performs well after long periods of storage.

Disadvantages: The metals in the battery are 25 times more expensive than lead. Nickel has been identified as a carcinogen. The self-discharge rate is high. No significant recycling capability exists.

Nickel-metal Hydride 

Advantages: It is reliable and lightweight and less prone to memory effect. In hybrid vehicles, these batteries have equal to 100,000 miles. This chemistry is reliable, can operate in a range of temperatures, tolerates abuse well and performs well after long periods of storage.

Disadvantages: The metals in the battery are 25 times more expensive than lead. Nickel has been identified as a carcinogen. The self-discharge rate is high. No significant recycling capability exists.

Note: The Advanced Lead Battery Consortium (ALABC) has helped to develop and test an advanced lead battery powered system that operates at the partial state of charge demands necessary for a hybrid vehicle and recently equipped a Honda Insight with this system. Advanced lead batteries will challenge the more expensive nickel metal hydride system in hybrid vehicles today.

Nickel-zinc

Advantages: This chemistry has good energy density, good operating temperature range and performs reasonably well after long periods of storage.

Disadvantages: It is expensive and its life cycle, while improved during the past few years, is still merely adequate. Nickel-metal hydride is often a stronger choice.

Sodium-sulfur 

Advantages: This chemistry is about as efficient as lead, but has three to four times more specific energy (the number of hours of operation for a given weight). Advantage only for stationary use.

Disadvantages: Twenty seven years of research has yielded only one commercial application – load leveling by electric utilities in Japan. Energy density per unit weight for mobile applications suffers due to material needed to keep system warm and protect it against crashes.

Aluminum-air

Advantages: This is a mechanically rechargeable primary battery system with a capacity equal to 15-20 cycles on a lead system (a cycle refers to a discharge and a charge).

Disadvantages: This chemistry cannot be cycled in the tradition sense. Its components must be replaced frequently; water must be added and sludge must be removed. When combined with the expense of reprocessing aluminum, the system is nowhere near commercialization.

Ensuring Safety 

The lead battery industry follows strict regulations in the manufacturing, shipping and recycling  of lead batteries. While the industry is the world’s largest consumer of lead, air emissions of lead from lead battery production are less than 1% of total U.S. lead emissions. Historically, the main sources of human lead exposure have been from leaded paint, leaded gasoline, leaded pottery, lead water pipes and lead solder – not lead batteries. 

Innovative recycling facilities have been developed to recycle virtually 100% of a lead battery’s components, and industry-supported regulation ensures that these products are returned to appropriate locations for reuse. 

Newer battery technologies have a more difficult time achieving the recycling advances and developing reclamation processes comparable to those established by the lead battery industry. The innovative processes for recycling lead batteries and the facilities that support them have progressively advanced over the year, making lead batteries the most recycled consumer good in the U.S. 

Along with innovative recycling practices, shipping of both flooded and sealed lead batteries has been managed safely and efficiently during the long history of lead battery use. Shippers of non-spillable lead batteries are provided exceptions to regulations when proper testing and marking requirements are met, making shipping even more efficient yet just as safe. Collection, transportation and handling of spent lead batteries are well defined and regulated by the U.S. government and by most states, often following the model legislation provided by BCI. Lead battery lead has long been recycled safely with a sustained recycling rate of 99%.

Lead batteries have a proven track record of safe operation in diverse applications.

Lead batteries safely service diverse applications such as automotive, aviation, marine, medical, nuclear, motive power, standby, uninterruptible power supplies, energy storage, load leveling, renewable energy, security, emergency lighting, electric and hybrid electric vehicles, and many more.

Charging and discharging of lead batteries at rates from a few milliamps to many thousands of amps is performed safely on a daily basis. They operate safely and reliably at widely ranging ambient temperatures and in every geographical location, from hot desert conditions to cold arctic environments. Sealed VRLA battery designs have made the use of lead battery technology even safer. With these non-spillable designs, the chances of acid leaking on to the user or the vehicle are minimal. Also, in the unfortunate event of a car accident, no acid will spill out if the battery is cracked or punctured. The lead battery chemistry is abuse tolerant, versatile, and a safe and reliable battery technology. 

Lead batteries are the most commonly used rechargeable batteries.

The reliability of the lead battery has made it the most commonly used rechargeable battery technology for the widest range of applications.

Their reliability holds true in a wide range of applications that require variable rates and depths of discharge, wide temperature ranges, partial state of charge conditions, high charge rates and many other fluctuating conditions. Recent innovations in raw materials, battery designs and manufacturing processes continue to demonstrate the superior reliability of lead battery technology. 

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