Each day, more than 250 million vehicles hit U.S. roads thanks to the power of lead batteries. Drivers might not realize many of their journeys began in the Viburnum Trend with lead and zinc mined by Doe Run. And when millions of those lead batteries reach the end of their life, they return to Missouri to be recycled at Doe Run’s Resource Recycling facility, one of the largest single-site lead recycling facilities in the world.
Lead batteries are the most recycled product in the U.S. – more than 99 percent are returned for recycling. As global lead battery demand is expected to grow 3.4 percent each year through 2021, continuous improvement at Resource Recycling is important to meet environmental requirements and customer needs.
“Doe Run plays two important roles for battery companies. First, we provide the specific lead and lead alloy metals they need to manufacture batteries, and then we recycle those batteries at the end of their life to recover metal and plastic that can be used again.”
In 2016, Doe Run continued a multiyear, multi-million dollar investment to update the plant’s Breaking, Separation and Neutralization (BSN) system. The project improves safety and environmental performance while helping keep the facility competitive. The project improved processing capability and reduced operating and maintenance costs.
Before 1991, Resource Recycling was a primary lead smelter – turning lead ore into raw materials used for production. Doe Run converted the smelter into a battery recycling facility to meet both the growing demand for lead and public demand for sustainable products. Doe Run has continued to invest in upgrades, like the BSN system, so Resource Recycling can keep pace with evolving technology.
“We began this modernization process in 2013, including construction of a new baghouse using a negative-pressure ventilation system to minimize the potential of emissions,” said Bruce Chamberlain, operations manager of Doe Run’s Metals Division*. “In November 2016, the new BSN system became operational, helping us improve our processes, as well as the needs of our customers and the community.”
Resource Recycling recovers more than just lead for its battery customers. The polypropylene plastic casing also can be recycled into new battery cases. The new BSN system produces quality recycled plastic by creating fewer opportunities for cross contamination between the polypropylene and other materials, recovering at least 98 percent of all polypropylene for reuse.
Doe Run partnered with Engitec, an Italian company and world leader in building metal recycling facilities. Local contractors at Lee Mechanical in Park Hills, Missouri, and Schneider Electric in St. Louis were responsible for installing the new BSN equipment.
Our Battery Recycling Process
More than 99 percent of lead batteries are recycled in the U.S., which keeps 2.4 million tons of batteries out of landfills. See diagram below of how Doe Run employees recycle the lead and other materials from used automobile batteries, giving those components new life.
Designed for Safety
To power a vehicle or store energy from solar panels, lead batteries need to be compact, but powerful. A chemical reaction in the battery occurs whenever it generates or stores electricity. That’s why safety is an important factor in improvements to Resource Recycling operations. During the recycling process, workers could be exposed to the elements that cause the chemical reaction, like battery acid, which is collected and neutralized in the BSN by adding hydrated lime.
“The safety of our employees was key in the new BSN design, which uses automation and electronic controls to reduce exposure to materials from the batteries,” said Rick White, BSN manager of Doe Run’s Metals Division. “The new BSN protects employees and improves equipment reliability.”
The system design also includes shields that limit potential spillage of plastic and lead-bearing materials being shredded. These improvements are already contributing to reduced blood-lead levels (the trace amount of lead the body may absorb through exposure) in Resource Recycling employees in 2017.
Designed for the Future
Other design features of the new BSN system prepare Resource Recycling for changes in the battery industry. The updates mean Doe Run can now recycle increasingly popular absorbed glass mat (AGM) batteries. The industry expects demand to increase for these lighter, long-lasting lead-based batteries over the next decade, particularly for vehicles and storage of renewable energy.
As innovation drives changes in lead battery technologies, Doe Run continues to invest in plant improvements.
“Lead-based batteries start 1 billion cars worldwide and store energy from the growing wind and solar industries. Doe Run plays a critical role in powering our global economy,” said Chamberlain.
Lead Batteries – The Most Recycled Product
How a Lead Battery is Recycled
Lead Recycling Fast Facts
Lead batteries are the most recycled and sustainable consumer product in the U.S.
- Lead batteries are recycled at a rate of 99 percent, compared to just 67 percent of paper, 55 percent of aluminum and 34 percent of glass, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
- By comparison, only a few companies can recycle lithium-ion batteries, and less than 1 percent of lithium is recycled.
- Approximately 90 percent of the lead Doe Run mines goes into lead-based batteries.
- Since it opened in 1994, Doe Run’s Resource Recycling facility has recycled approximately 324 million batteries, enough to circle the globe.
- Each year, Doe Run recycles enough batteries to cover about 137 football fields, keeping used batteries out of landfills.