The Impact of Lead

It’s no stretch to say that electricity powers our world. A wide variety of appliances serve critical purposes in ensuring the health, efficiency, and security of the human race. From automobiles to medical appliances, it is no stretch to claim that batteries serve a critical role in society to power crucial portable appliances.

As discussed in my previous blog post, Lead Acid batteries firmly stand as the industry standard to power our heaviest appliances, mainly due in part to it’s economic advantage over alternatives on the market. However, there do exist alternatives. From older batteries, such as Nickel Cadmium, to more modern batteries, such as Lithium-ion, Lead Acid batteries fall short in smaller devices due to the energy and weight efficiency exhibited by  the newer Lithium Ion battery.

NiCd NiMH Lead Acid Li-ion Li-ion polymer Reusable
Alkaline
Gravimetric Energy Density(Wh/kg) 45-80 60-120 30-50 110-160 100-130 80 (initial)
Internal Resistance
(includes peripheral circuits) in mΩ
100 to 2001
6V pack
200 to 3001
6V pack
<1001
12V pack
150 to 2501
7.2V pack
200 to 3001
7.2V pack
200 to 20001
6V pack
Cycle Life (to 80% of initial capacity) 15002 300 to 5002,3 200 to
3002
500 to 10003 300 to
500
503
(to 50%)
Fast Charge Time 1h typical 2-4h 8-16h 2-4h 2-4h 2-3h
Overcharge Tolerance moderate low high very low low moderate
Self-discharge / Month (room temperature) 20%4 30%4 5% 10%5 ~10%5 0.3%
Cell Voltage(nominal) 1.25V6 1.25V6 2V 3.6V 3.6V 1.5V
Load Current
–    peak
–    best result
20C
1C
5C
0.5C or lower
5C
0.2C
>2C
1C or lower
>2C
1C or lower
0.5C
0.2C or lower
Operating Temperature(discharge only) -40 to
60°C
-20 to
60°C
-20 to
60°C
-20 to
60°C
0 to
60°C
0 to
65°C
Maintenance Requirement 30 to 60 days 60 to 90 days 3 to 6 months9 not req. not req. not req.
Typical Battery Cost
(US$, reference only)
$50
(7.2V)
$60
(7.2V)
$25
(6V)
$100
(7.2V)
$100
(7.2V)
$5
(9V)
Cost per Cycle(US$)11 $0.04 $0.12 $0.10 $0.14 $0.29 $0.10-0.50
Commercial use since 1950 1990 1970 1991 1999 1992
Figure 1: Characteristics of commonly used rechargeable batteries

As shown in the chart above, many newer models of batteries exist that can outperform lead acid batteries in terms of weight and efficiency, but as shown, lead acid batteries sport a cheaper price at $25 per battery. Another advantage not shown is safety. Although Nickel Cadmiun and Reusable Alkaline batteries also offer competitive price points, Nickel Cadmium batteries include toxic metals that have also been found to be environmentally unfriendly, while Reusable Alkaline batteries have been known to emit hydrogen gas (explosive) during charging periods. Therefore, given all of these considerations, although lead is not strictly needed, it would be very costly to actually attempt to implement a replacement for lead.

Taking into account the PAT factors (population, affluence, and technology) that determine the impact of lead, it would appear that technology is the greatest concern when dealing with lead. As it stands, the greatest environmental downside towards utilizing lead for lead acid batteries is the waste produced in processing lead and the damage created in the mismanagement of lead that is being recycled (as lead still is a toxic material to deal with). Our greatest priority moving forward with lead should be to utilize research efforts into producing cleaner processes for handling lead, and researching stricter procedures for the recycling of lead. Even a small improvement in how we handle lead would propagate to every future appliance created, which is huge given the role of lead in automobiles alone.

While I do think that technology holds the greatest concern for lead moving forward, population also plays a significant role. Since population growth leads to more demand of appliances, this will in turn lead to a greater demand in lead that needs to be processed, which will encourage more harmful waste to be produced as a result (as shown earlier). However, the amount of influence population has is something that can certainly be offset by greater research into cleaner practice. In a similar vein, although affluence plays a role in determining the impact of lead (by creating more demand for lead acid batteries), this is something that can easily be offset by researching cleaner lead processing methods. Therefore, moving forward our greatest priority should be to place more of an emphasis into research and better technology to further increase our efficiency when dealing with lead.

Sources:

[1] http://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/whats_the_best_battery

[2] http://www.ecomena.org/managing-lead-acid-batteries/

[3] http://www.worstpolluted.org/projects_reports/display/90

[4] http://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/will_the_reusable_alkaline_battery_have_a_future

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The Impact of Lead

2 thoughts on “The Impact of Lead

  1. Reblogged this on BioEnergy Consult Blog and commented:
    The greatest environmental downside towards utilizing lead for lead acid batteries is the waste produced in processing lead and the damage created in the mismanagement of lead that is being recycled (as lead still is a toxic material to deal with). Our greatest priority moving forward with lead should be to utilize research efforts into producing cleaner processes for handling lead, and researching stricter procedures for the recycling of lead.

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  2. Very interesting post! I especially liked that yours was very different than mine. Unlike mine and many other topics, it isn’t necessarily environmentally better to move away from lead batteries to substitutes. It might be interesting to look into substitutes in a broader sense too, though, like is it possible to do the same things we do without (lead) batteries at all? I don’t know if that would be a useful direction to look, but it might turn up something interesting. Also, are there substantial safety improvements to be made with regards to lead handling? I know that there has been a push against lead in the not-too-distant past, so is there still many substantial changes to be made?

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