Used batteries should be removed from the household as simply touching the lead poles can be harmful. Old primary cells are notorious to leak and may cause damage to the surrounding area, and this is exactly why battery recycling is imperative.
Battery recycling is basically the reuse and reprocessing practice of batteries, which is aimed at reducing the number of batteries being disposed as material waste. Batteries need recycling to comply with environmental and health benefits.
But battery recycling is energy intensive and research shows that it takes 6 to 10 times more energy to reclaim metals from some recycled batteries than from mining.
The only exception to this is that a lead acid battery, from which lead can be extracted easily and can be reused without elaborate processes.
Recycling begins with sorting batteries into chemistries. Collection centers place lead acid, nickel-cadmium, nickel-metal-hydride and lithium-ion into the designated boxes or drums.
The process then begins by removing the combustible material, such as plastics and insulation, with a gas-fired thermal oxidizer. Polluting particles created by the burning process are then removed by the plant’s scrubber before release into the atmosphere. This leaves the clean and naked cells with metal content.
The cells are then chopped into tiny pieces and heated until the metal liquefies.
Non-metallic materials are then burned off, which leaves a black slag on top that a slag arm removes. The alloys then settle according to weight and are skimmed off like cream from raw milk while it’s still in liquid form.
Each country differs in terms of setting rules and adds tariffs to the purchase price of a new battery to make recycling feasible. For example, in North America, some recycling plants invoice by weight and the rates according to chemistry.
Lead battery recycling involves 5 basic steps:
- Crushing: Once at the recycling facility, the battery is broken apart in a hammer mill (machine that crushes the battery into small pieces).
- Sorting: The broken pieces are taken through a vat, where heavy metals and lead are separated from the plastic.
- Sieving: Polypropylene pieces are taken out and the liquids sieved to only leave the lead and heavy metals. The Polypropylene pieces are washed, then transported downstream to manufacture new battery casings.
- Hydro-metallurgical and Pyro-metallurgical processes: extraction of valuable metals and minerals from their ores.
So how is old battery acid handled?
This is done through neutralization of the acid with industrial basic compounds, which turns the acid to water. The water is cleaned, treated and tested to ensure it complies with water standards, following which it is released into the public sewer system.
It is also possible to convert it into sodium sulfate. Sodium sulfate is an odourless white powder that is used for manufacturing laundry detergents, textiles, as well as glass. Alternatively, the acid can be reused to manufacture new battery products through a specialized recycling process.
There is no doubt that batteries with toxic substances will continue to be with us and there is nothing wrong in using them – as long as they are being disposed of properly.
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