What Happens To My Old Car Battery?
May 31st, 2015
Q: I know that car batteries are pretty hazardous. What happens to them after they’re recycled?
A: Yes, you’re right. Lead-acid batteries are composed of sulfuric acid and up to 20 pounds of lead, making them pretty nasty and dangerous to handle. The lead-acid battery was invented all the way back in 1859; when an electric current passes through the battery, its lead plates react with the acid, and that chemical reaction is how a charge is stored. As the battery discharges, the acid reacts with the lead, coating the plates with lead sulfate, which converts back to acid as the battery charges again.
Huge lead-acid batteries are used for applications like backup power for hospitals, servers and cell phone towers, as well as for storing electricity in stand-alone solar or wind power systems. This fairly old technology still accounts for nearly 50 percent of batteries sold worldwide. A 2003 report stated that automotive batteries account for an estimated 2,600,000 tons of lead. Lead exposure, even in small amounts, is linked to brain and kidney damage, neurological problems, hearing impairment and learning problems in children. Today, close to 99 percent of automotive batteries are recycled, with their lead recovered for other products. The lead and plastic in a battery is typically 60 to 80 percent recycled material.
At the recycling center, the battery is smashed to pieces in a hammermill first. The broken fragments go to a vat, with lead and heavy materials settling to the bottom and the plastic rising to the top. The plastic pieces are scooped out and the liquid drained, leaving the lead and metal materials. The polypropylene plastic is then washed, dried and sent to a hopper where the plastic pieces are melted together. This molten plastic is directed through an extruder and formed into small plastic pellets, which are sold back to the manufacturers of battery cases for reuse.
The lead is melted in a smelting furnace, and the stray metals and other impurities are separated out. Lead is then formed into ingots, which are sent to battery manufacturers for the production of new batteries. The old battery acid is sometimes neutralized with an alkaline compound similar to baking soda, turning it into water. The water is analyzed to ensure safety, then released into the public sewer system. It can also be converted into sodium sulfate, a white powder that’s used in laundry detergent and other manufacturing processes.
At St. Lucie Battery & Tire in West Palm Beach, FL and Jensen Beach FL, we not only offer great deals on batteries for your vehicle…you can be assured that your old battery is going to be disposed of properly. How long has it been since you had your car battery replaced? Give us a call, make an appointment and let one of our auto repair techs test your battery and charging system!
Posted in: Auto Repair 101