Lead Batteries are an Environmentally Sustainable Solution to the Clean Energy Challenge

Terrence Murphy
President and CEO of the Hammond Group

Environmental regulatory systems are inherently complex. Policies and agencies often find themselves at odds with each other, as they try to implement their own charters. This is certainly the case in the energy area, and particularly with battery power.

Here’s the problem. While climate programs are promoting battery power, other groups have targeted lead batteries as a product that needs to be further regulated, if that is possible, or even eliminated. Such an initiative is hugely misplaced. Lead batteries are the most recycled consumer product on the market, exceeding 99%. All the dispersive uses of lead have long ceased; no one wants it released into the environment. So, it is both unnecessary and counterproductive to attack and potentially ban lead batteries. In fact, it would be unscientific and illogical to attempt to prevent lead from its true and environmentally friendly destiny of helping to reduce our carbon footprint.

The best place for lead is the current practice, to be quarantined in a hermetically sealed battery box which is highly controlled and regulated. The fact that these batteries could have the single biggest impact on reducing CO2 emissions and are 100% sustainable needs to be recognized and embraced by regulators. What’s more amazing, is that there is a world-wide infrastructure is in place to process over 20,000,000,000 pounds of lead /year from recycled batteries, with 100% of the lead forever contained in a cradle-to-cradle cycle.

Lead is highly regulated – and rightfully so. The Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) implements the Safer Consumer Products (SCP) Program to reduce toxic chemicals in the products that consumers buy and use. However; DTSC recently released a Priority Product Work Plan that included lead batteries as a possible candidate for a future listing. This is a dangerous idea. Listing lead batteries as a Priority Product under the SCP would directly impede the continuing innovation in this technology and would eliminate one of the most useful and essential tools in fighting climate change.

It’s important to recognize the role of batteries in the transition from fossil fuels into clean electric power. Currently lead batteries are utilized to power start-stop and hybrid vehicles that reduce tailpipe emissions. They are also used as uninterruptable power supply for hospitals, 911 centers, cell phone towers, schools, data centers, and play a vital role in the emerging markets for solar installations and utility-scale grid balancing systems. The push to clean energy and protecting our planet will rely heavily on energy storage. Lead batteries are a very viable, emission-free option to fulfill our future energy requirements. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

Significant progress has been made in all facets of the product life cycle of lead batteries. A “cradle-to-cradle” regulatory structure is already in place and rightfully enforced. The existing rigorous regulation of the lead battery industry should continue, but DTSC should refrain from singling out this product for further directives under the Safer Consumer Products Program.

Lead batteries are a perfect example of true systems thinking and a circular economy. There is a well-established and effective sustainability program where consumer/industry cooperation is seamless and where a national and worldwide infrastructure is already in place. Lead is a naturally occurring element, so while we can’t eliminate it, we can lock it up in a battery. This is where it belongs, forever trapped in a sealed box, solving one of the greatest challenges of our time; reducing CO2 emissions.

***

According to Wood Mackenzie, a leading research and consultancy firm, 86.0% of global refined lead is consumed by the battery industry. They estimate total global lead consumption in 2018 to be 12.67 million metric tons which implies 24 billion pounds of lead, roughly ½ or 12 billion pounds of oxide.

Mr. Murphy has spent over 30 years shaping California technology, as he has worked on a multitude of NASA programs, including the Space Shuttle Main Engines, the International Space Station Power system and the Mars rover. He was also the founding CEO of SolarReserve and earned an MS in Systems Management from USC.

Comment on this article


Please note, statements and opinions expressed on the Fox&Hounds Blog are solely those of their respective authors and may not represent the views of Fox&Hounds Daily or its employees thereof. Fox&Hounds Daily is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the site's bloggers.