Moderated Discussion Areas
ContinuousWave: Small Boat Electrical
posted 01-09-2014 12:33 PM ET (US)
For providing storage of electrical power on small boats, the lead-acid battery is the overwhelming choice. I really don't know of any other practical means. The basis for a lead-acid battery is, of course, lead. By a quirk of geology, there is a huge deposit of lead in the United States of America, located in Missouri. This vein of lead ore has been mined and extracted as long ago as 1700. See
Lead ore from the ground must be refined or smelted. A plant for the refinement or smelting of lead ore is known as a primary smelter. Primary lead smelting operations in the USA have been gradually shutting down, thought to have been caused by environmental regulations. Recently an announcement came that the last remaining primary lead smelting operation in the USA was closing. The smelter at Doe Run has been closed down as of December 2013. The smelter there began operation in 1892. The company which operated the smelter said the cost to upgrade the plant to comply with EPA regulations was so high that it represented too great an investment for them, and they chose to suspend operation of the 120-year-old primary smelter.
Most of the lead used in lead-acid batteries comes from re-cycling of old lead materials. Lead is said to be very highly re-cycled, and as much as 98-percent of all lead is reused. This would suggest that the demand for new lead being mined and smelted from ore may be less now than in the past due to the influence of re-cycling. Refinement of used lead is accomplished by a secondary smelter.
Use of lead in lead-acid batteries is said to represent almost 90-percent of the lead consumption in the USA.
posted 01-10-2014 12:13 PM ET (US)
Recovery of lead from existing lead products and its refining back to high-purity lead is known as secondary smelting or re-cycling. For about 20 years there have been no new lead secondary smelting or re-cycling plants built (in the USA), apparently due to concerns about (meeting or the cost of meeting) environmental controls and air pollution restrictions. Several large secondary lead smelting plants have closed. For example, in Frisco, Texas, a secondary smelter run by Exide Technologies has closed. The plant and site are being cleaned, and lead or other toxins removed. See
The environmental standards for lead smelters were first proposed in c.1994 as part of the Clean Air Act. For more details see
A report published in 2013 suggests that there has been a significant movement of secondary lead smelters to Mexico from the USA.
Cf.: Hazardous Trade?
Operating opposite to this trend to move secondary lead smelters to Mexico, the Johnson Controls company very recently opened a secondary lead smelter or spent lead-acid battery recycling center in Florence, South Carolina. This plant is believe to be the first secondary lead smelter to have received a permit for operation by the EPA in a twenty year period, i.e., c.1993 to c.2012.
The plant is said to be a state-of-the-art recycling facility. It began operation in September, 2012.
posted 01-10-2014 12:54 PM ET (US)
Even with the re-cycling of lead-acid batteries and recovery of almost all of the lead in them, it seems that the closing of all primary lead smelting in the USA makes inevitable that we will need to import refined lead from other countries who continue to extract lead ore and refine it in primary smelters. This process may already be in place in the form of the absorbed glass mat (AGM) battery.
The AGM battery is much more easily shipped than the traditional vented flooded cell lead-acid battery. The AGM is sealed, and there is little risk of leaking acid. As a result, shipment of AGM batteries in a finished and ready-to-use state is much more convenient than with flooded-cell lead-acid batteries. A very large number of AGM batteries are made in Asia, particularly in China, and imported to the USA. We can consider these AGM batteries as a way of importing lead mined elsewhere into the USA.
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