The standard lead-acid battery starts more than 600 million passenger vehicles globally and also powers golf carts, forklifts and other modes of transportation. So it's a good thing that, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 98.8 percent of lead in lead-acid batteries can be recovered through recycling.
Much of this recycling, which plays a vital role in the health of the planet, takes place at The Doe Run Company's Buick Resource Recycling Division (BRRD) in Boss, Mo. Founded in 1991, BRRD operates the world's largest single-site lead recycling facility. In 2006, the plant recycled 13.5 million lead-acid batteries. A typical automotive battery contains approximately 20 pounds of lead, 1 gallon of sulfuric acid and 2 pounds of plastic.
"The technology in place at BRRD enables the recovery and reuse of lead - creating a true lifecycle for this valuable and limited resource," said Steve Arnold, general manager at BRRD. "We're proud of our proactive and strategic engagement in this critically important recycling process."
The 98.8 percent recovery rate for lead-acid batteries is the highest among recycled products. By comparison, the recovery rates are 88.9 percent for newspapers, 62.6 percent for office-type papers and 44.8 percent for aluminum cans, according to the EPA.
BRRD's industry-leader status has not gone unnoticed. For example, when authors John Christensen and Teri Christensen were looking for more information about the recycling of lead-acid batteries for the next edition of the ninth-grade textbook "Global Science: Energy, Resources, Environment," they included the expertise of BRRD. A "special focus" portion of the book, published by Kendall-Hunt, will focus on BRRD's role in car battery recycling.
At BRRD, collected items are separated into various components. In addition to capturing lead and other trace metals from batteries, plastic casings are recycled (by third parties), oftentimes into retaining blocks or pothole mix. Even the sodium sulfate solution, which is a byproduct of the lead recycling process, is crystallized to produce a high-quality salt used by the laundry detergent, paper and glass industries.
"Lead recycling is a success story - for industry, regulators, consumers and those concerned with the responsible use of resources," Arnold said. "Recycling helps preserve limited natural resources, and our recycling division processes tons of materials that otherwise would be considered waste."
BRRD is one of the few facilities in North America that accepts and recovers lead from cathode ray tube (CRT) glass, found in many computer monitor and television screens. While other companies can recycle the plastic housings and circuit boards, not many can recover the lead found in CRT glass. A typical monitor contains 2 to 4 pounds of lead. More than 500,000 cathode ray tubes were recycled in 2006 at BRRD.