Scraponomics Episode 144: Aqua Metals May Be Giving Lead-Acid Battery Refining a Makeover

Aug 12, 2016, 12:48 PM

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” — Buckminster Fuller, American architect, author, and inventor

Now that you have a brief introduction into what types of batteries we take for scrap-recycling at Friedland, as well as those we don’t (and where to take them), here’s some interesting news about lead-acid battery recycling.

A tech company called Aqua Metals recently started a lead-acid battery recycling plant in Nevada, using a proprietary technology they call AquaRefining. They claim it will produce far less emissions than the current standard, which is smelting. They also claim it will be cheaper.

So how is lowering emissions possible?

This is a question I’d like to invite any listeners/readers of Scraponomics who are scientists to weigh in on, since I’m not an expert smelting, but here’s my guess.

Traditional smelting involves re-melting lead in a blast furnace, and then separating any impurities from the liquid before making ingots (molded blocks).

The AquaRefining method involves dissolving the lead in an electrolyte liquid, and then separating any impurities using aqua-refiners before the lead is poured into ingot molds. This means less burning is happening, which may be the reason it produces less emissions.

If that’s the case, this could be an awesome display of technological advancement. We may not know for awhile, and traditional smelting has been key to making lead recycling happen for a long time, but I’m looking forward to seeing how Aqua Metals develops.

One important thing to remember is that nearly all of the lead we use today is recycled over and over and over again, rather than being mined out of the ground. It’s still a useful product in society. Since the recycling part is already happening, it’s cool to see people focusing on other areas that can improve, like refining.

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