Recycled lead continues to be a growing contributor to global supplies. In fact, according to International Lead and Zinc Study Group figures quoted in a February 19 Bloomberg article, recycled lead, mainly from car and e-bike batteries, made up 35 percent of lead inventories in 2011, up from 21 percent 10 years earlier.
That trend will likely continue as the recovering economy drives car and e-bike demand higher, creating a rising tide of recycled lead as the batteries in those vehicles are eventually replaced. Global car sales will hit 65.71 million units this year, up from 62.45 million in 2012, according to a March 6 report from Scotiabank. What's more, over 25 million e-bikes were sold in China alone last year, and that figure is expected to rise to 47 million in 2018, as per recent figures from Pike Research. And right now, there are over 120 million e-bikes zipping along Chinese streets. The question is whether the coming wave of recycled lead will swamp demand. Macquarie Wood analyst Duncan Hobbs doesn't think so. “Yes, there will be more scrap batteries coming back because there are more cars and there are more e-bikes on the road,” he told Bloomberg. “But people want even more cars and even more e-bikes.” Lead-acid batteries are heavily recycled Lead is one of the world's most recycled metals: according to the US Geological Survey, about 1.14 million tons of recovered lead were produced in the United States last year, or about 80 percent of domestic consumption, with almost all of it coming from consumer products. A February 2011 Alt Energy Stocks article notes that 97 percent of all lead-acid batteries in the US and Europe are recycled, mainly because the process is “straightforward and cost-effective.” Essentially, exhausted batteries are broken into pieces and immersed in water, after which the lead sinks to the bottom and the plastic rises to the top. The lead is then melted and poured into ingot molds. Impurities are removed and the lead is sent to manufacturing plants to be incorporated into new batteries. Battery acid can also be converted into sodium sulfate, which is used in laundry detergent as well as glass and textile manufacturing, or converted to water and treated.