hydrometallurgy: a circular economy for waste LABs

Lead recycling is a colossal business. In 2013, global recycled lead production rose to 6.1 million tonnes (source: ILA). All of the lead produced in the USA is recycled (i.e. secondary), while in Europe it comprises 70% of the market.

Lead-acid batteries (LABs) are the main application for all this lead. In Europe and the USA, almost 100% of waste batteries are recycled. In fact, LABs are considered to be the world’s most recycled consumer product (source: ECOBAT, BCI) – and lead itself can be recycled again and again, with no apparent reduction in quality. Perfect for a circular economy, you’d think… but is there a catch?

The recycling of LABs via pyrometallurgy produces “smelter smoke” – a toxic mixture of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and often lead particles. This is ironic; lead recycling is motivated by our desire to achieve sustainability, and yet the recycling process itself is damaging to the environment. But thanks to Fenixpb, all this is about to change…

So How Do We Make It Cleaner?

Fenixpb – Clean, Sustainable, Green

Fenixpb uses refined mechanical separation and patented hydrometallurgy to afford a unique leady lead oxide (Pb/PbO). The key benefits provided by our process and product are as follows:

  • No harmful emissions.

Unlike smelting, our lead recycling chemistry has a low carbon footprint and does not release any toxic gases. CO2 emissions are reduced by up to 90% compared to pyrometallurgy, while noxious gases (such as SO2 and NO2) are eliminated entirely. This is a major step towards sustainability.

  • Energy is a product of the reaction.

The chemistry is highly exothermic – producing around 400 mWh per 1,000 tonnes batteries processed. We use this energy to subsidise electricity. While pyrometallurgy requires up to 10 kWh per kg of battery recycled, our process uses just 50 Wh – roughly the same amount of energy stored in a new LAB.

  • Low cost and scalable.

Because the reagents in our patented leach solution make up the majority of our costs (roughly 77%), plant size is proportional to throughput – making our process highly scalable. Fenixpb enables recycling closer to the source of lead battery waste. A smelter cannot be profitable with a throughput of just 1,000 tonnes batteries, but we can.

Hazardous waste shipments across borders can be avoided with small-scale Fenixpb plants. Crucially, this enables profitable LAB recycling in developing countries – where informal recycling is poisoning local communities.

  • Our lead oxide is LAB-ready and avoids handling of lead ingot.

Our calcination process yields a mixture of metallic lead (Pb) and lead oxide (PbO). The amount of Pb can be tuned, as can the ratio between alpha and beta PbO. This is unprecedented in LAB recycling – we are drastically reducing or eliminating the downstream re-processing of lead ingot to lead oxide, saving cost and money.

And that’s not all – our Pb/PbO is nano-molecular – leading to superior batteries, having up to 30% greater efficiency. With Fenixpb, it is possible to produce secondary LABs that outperform their primary counterparts.

lead citrate crystals

lead citrate crystals

nano-crystalline PbO