Batteries: The Recycling Process

November 6, 2009

Have you thought lately about batteries?  Those little portable cells of energy you often use?  The global battery market is about $50 billion US, of which roughly $5.5 billion is allocated to rechargeable (secondary) batteries.   US demand now exceeds $14 billion dollars annually, in both the primary (one-time use) and secondary (rechargeable) batteries.  And what happens to those toxic lead-acid batteries when you are done using them?  Here’s a rundown of what happens at the recycler:

On arrival, batteries are broken apart in a hammer mill, which is a machine that hammers the battery into pieces. The broken plastic pieces are then placed into a vat, where the lead and heavy materials fall to the bottom and the plastic floats.  Then the polypropylene pieces are scooped away and the liquids are drawn off, leaving the lead and heavy metals. Each of the materials goes into a different recycling “stream”.

Lead grids, lead oxide, and other lead parts are cleaned and heated within smelting furnaces. The molten melted lead is then poured into ingot molds. After a few minutes, the impurities float to the top of the still molten lead in the ingot molds. These impurities are scraped away and the ingots are left to cool. When the ingots are cool, they’re removed from the molds and sent to battery manufacturers, where they’re re-melted and used in the production of new batteries.

Old battery acid can be handled in two ways: 1) The acid is neutralized with an industrial compound similar to household baking soda. Neutralization turns the acid into water. The water is then treated, cleaned, tested in a waste water treatment plant to be sure it meets clean water standards. 2) The acid is processed and converted to sodium sulfate, an odorless white powder that’s used in laundry detergent, glass, and textile manufacturing.

Of course all of this only works if we recycle batteries.  We’ve got a 99% success rate in recycling batteries, but most of that comes from car and industrial batteries.  Make sure you help with the remaining 1% and help Greenification go all the way.

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