The Essential Lead Battery

An Industry of Critical Products and Services That Sustain Us

Lead batteries are an essential, irreplaceable link to connect, power and protect our daily lives and are key to a cleaner, greener future – providing 70% of the world’s rechargeable power. Lead batteries enable numerous modern conveniences – cars, electronic banking, healthcare and mobile connectivity. That’s why lead – a metal found naturally in the Earth’s crust – is so critical. We all need, use and benefit from lead batteries daily.

FACT #1

We need lead batteries.

Our world relies on lead batteries. There is no viable alternative for their specific applications.

We live in a battery-driven society. Modern, advanced lead batteries are an irreplaceable link to connect, power and protect our daily lives and create a cleaner, greener future. They are unmatched in many respects:

  • Performance
  • Durability
  • Battery safety
  • Functional safety
  • Recycling and sustainability
  • Cost and commercial maturity

Yet lead battery technology remains misunderstood.

Newer battery chemistries such as lithium-ion exist and have some advantages (small, portable electronics). But for larger applications, like in vehicles, lithium batteries “remain costly, are not commercially mature enough, and do not currently meet all critical OEM requirements in terms of vehicle compatibility, safety, high temperature sensitivity and recyclability.”1

According to the United Nations Environmental Programme, “There are currently no readily available, economic and environmentally sound large-scale alternatives for lead-acid batteries, particularly for vehicles.”2

The necessity for lead batteries goes further. They ensure that back-up power is available to prevent interruptions in:

  • National security and defense
  • Utilities and renewable energy
  • Medical and public safety
  • Transportation and logistics
  • Grid resiliency
  • Communication networks and data centers
  • Financial institutions, such as the New York Stock Exchange

Supporting Facts

  • Lead batteries provide 70% of the world’s rechargeable power.
  • During power outages, lead batteries bridge the minutes until a generator kicks in.
  • Lead batteries serve 92% of the demand for uninterruptible power supply to prevent blackouts from becoming life-threatening emergencies.

FACT #2

Someone has to recycle lead batteries.

Annually, 130 million lead batteries require recycling in the United States. Gopher Resource provides that service, using responsible, safe, highly regulated methods.

Gopher Resource has been a leading provider of recycling services to the battery industry for 75 years and operates two of only ten such facilities in the U.S. Our Tampa facility recycles the plastic, lead and sulfuric acid from an estimated 13 million lead batteries annually.

Recycling is not an easy job and it’s labor intensive. But it is an essential environmental service that someone must do to:

  • Protect people and the environment.
  • Ensure U.S. manufacturers have a steady supply of domestically sourced recycled components to produce new lead batteries.

Committed to Safety

The lead battery industry is committed to protecting its communities by keeping the lead battery life cycle in motion and delivering clean, reliable and high quality solutions.

Supporting Facts

  • More than 90% of a lead battery’s three main components are infinitely recyclable.
  • Lead batteries are a model for other battery chemistries – and industries – in how to responsibly design, make, use, recycle and remanufacture materials.

FACT #3

Lead batteries have a nearly 100% recycling rate in the U.S.

Gopher Resource helps maintain this rate, creating multiple benefits for people, our environment and the economy.

Every part of a lead battery – lead, plastic and sulfuric acid – is recyclable and reusable in manufacturing new batteries. This gives lead batteries the best sustainability profile of all major battery chemistries. It also greatly reduces the need for new lead mining and the risks associated with unsound overseas recycling in developing countries.

Four major factors contribute to lead batteries’ 99% recycling rate:

  • Minimal componentry creates an efficient recycling process.
  • Established recycling infrastructure.
  • Enormous network of battery retailers to capture spent-batteries.
  • Economic incentive (recyclable componentry becomes high-value raw materials).

In contrast, lithium batteries have only a 5% recycling rate. The “recycling processes for low-voltage lithium batteries are relatively complex and immature …[and] will never be as efficient as the closed loop recycling process seen for lead.”1

Supporting Facts:

  • A new lead battery is typically comprised of 80% recycled material.
  • S. recycling of lead batteries and other lead-bearing scrap provides 73% of the domestic demand for lead. Of that 73% total, over 90% goes to manufacture new lead batteries.
  • Reusing recycled materials fosters energy independence and contributes to a more reliable secondary supply chain.
Unsafe lead battery recycling in Tegal, Indonesia.

FACT #4

What happens if we don’t recycle lead batteries?

The proper recycling of lead batteries is an international concern. Gopher Resource is contributing to a safer solution.

The U.S. produces 130 million spent lead batteries annually. If lead battery recyclers did not exist:

1) Spent lead batteries would go to landfills.

“When thrown in the household trash, batteries end up in landfills. As the battery casing corrodes, chemicals leach into the soil and make their way into our water supply. [Some] batteries react in a volatile way when exposed. According to Battery University, lithium can cause landfill fires … releas[ing] toxic chemicals into the air …”4

Without lead battery recycling, waste would increase even more dramatically. For example, it is forecasted that by 2050, solar garbage will constitute double the tonnage of all forms of global plastic waste.5 Similar scales are expected from end-of-life batteries used in electric cars and on power grids. China’s annual battery trash will exceed 2 million tons per year by 2030.5

2) Lead batteries would get exported to developing countries with either no lead battery recycling or unsafe methods.

The U.S. lead battery industry is part of a global effort to increase responsible battery production and recycling. In part, because, “Lead can be reused safely and cleanly in countries with appropriate environmental regulations and monitoring.”6

However, many countries lack sufficient formal recycling infrastructure and capacity to handle the quantity of used lead batteries flooding their markets. “As a result, as much as half of the used lead-acid batteries end up in the informal economy7 where ” … unregulated and often illegal recycling operations break open battery cases, spilling acid and lead dust onto the ground, and smelt lead in open-air furnaces that spew toxic fumes and dust that contaminate surrounding neighborhoods.”8

3) Harmful mining and U.S. dependency on foreign countries would increase.

The lead battery industry’s circular model of sourcing materials for new lead batteries from domestic lead battery recyclers means less mining of virgin material, less environmental harm, and a secure U.S. supply chain.

According to one report about lithium batteries, “50% of the world’s production of cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and is tied to armed conflict, illegal mining, human rights abuses, and harmful environmental practices.”5

Supporting Fact:

  • Lead battery recycling requires 90% less energy than using primary lead from mining and reduces greenhouse gas by 90%.9

FACT #5

Lead battery recyclers are highly regulated for worker safety.

The lead battery industry, including recyclers, is one of the most highly regulated by state and federal third-party entities. Gopher Resource uses the most advanced filtration and safety protocols available. Enormous progress has been made – and continues to be made – in creating the safest possible working conditions.

Supporting Facts:

  • Battery Council International’s U.S. companies are on track to meet its target of having all workers maintain their blood lead levels below 20 μg/dL by 2025.
  • Gopher Resource Tampa has a sustained 15-year track record of reduced lead levels in employees. Today, our average levels are less than half the level of many state and federal standards for workplace safety, as well as the American College of Governmental and Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH). And we continue to improve.
Sources
  1. Ricardo Strategic Consulting. “Automotive Battery Technology Trends Review.” June 2020.
  2. UNICEF and Pure Earth. “The Toxic Truth.” July 2020.
  3. Environmental Protection Agency. “Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2018 Fact Sheet.” December 2020.
  4. Kattenburg, Kathy. “What Do Batteries Do to the Environment if Not Properly Recycled?” Sciencing.
  5. Mills, Mark P. “Mines, Minerals and Green Energy: A Reality Check.” July 9, 2020.
  6. International Lead Association. “Lead Recycling: Sustainability in Action.” Lead Action 21, 2014.
  7. Daniell, Henry, Stephen J. Streatfield, and Edward P. Rybicki. “Advances in Molecular Farming: Key Technologies, Scaled up Production and Lead Targets.” Plant biotechnology journal 13, no. 8, 2015: 1011. DOI: 10.1111/pbi.12478
  8. World Health Organization. “Recycling used lead-acid batteries: Health considerations.” 2017.
  9. Interpreted from: “A Review of Battery Life-Cycle Analysis: State of Knowledge and Critical Needs, Argonne National Laboratory.” Oct. 2010.

We have spent a significant amount of time and resources training employees on practices that improve the work environment, safety, and efficient operations of our … systems. The more we educate employees, the better engagement and results we see.

What Employees Say
Gopher Resource Employee
Department Manager RMPC

I like working here and I have had other job opportunities. There is a sense of accomplishment, a sense of helping our community and keeping the environment clean. We have a lot of great employees here.

What Employees Say
Gopher Resource Employee
RMPC Operator

Gopher stresses the importance of safety for all people working in the plant environment and we have built a great working relationship between the two companies. They have always taken care of us as a contractor and collaborated with us as a team.

What Vendors Say
Maintenance Partner/Contractor
Owner
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