RELAB – Recycling of Lead Acid Batteries 

The recycling of lead acid batteries is a success story for the recycling industries. Lead has one of the highest material recycling rates in the world with 90% of the lead consumed in Europe being re-fed back into the supply chain through recycling facilities. >99% of all the lead that enters the process can be returned back to manufacturing.

Despite the success of lead recycling in recent years there are still a number of problems that need to be addressed, primarily due to the use of the smelting operation to reduce oxidised lead compounds and remove unwanted metal impurities.

  • Smelting is a very energy intensive process, typically operating at temperatures above 1100 ºC
  • Lead is highly toxic. The high temperature operation of smelting facilities causes significant amounts of lead to be released into the surrounding atmosphere which has to monitored carefully and at great expense.

In addition, lead recycling has been named as the most polluting industry worldwide in 2016, responsible for the loss of between 2,000,000 and 4,800,000 disability adjusted life years worldwide. Weak health, safety and environmental regulations in low to middle income countries (LMICs) means that these toxic materials are being handled with little regard or understanding of the health implications for doing so. In addition, disposal of waste also occurs unchecked polluting the surrounding environment.

relab flow
Flow diagram of lead recycling

The RELAB project, funded by the UK engineering and physical sciences research council (EPSRC), aims to address all of the issues described above. Using a novel type of liquids called deep eutectic solvents (DESs), the lead can be processed at low temperatures, high purities and via a clean, easily controlled and maintained process enabling significant reductions in energy consumption and minimised risk to health and the environment.