The future of lead-acid batteries looks bright
Safe, affordable and fully recyclable, lead-acid batteries will find even more use in the age of renewable and clean energy.
Over the years, the lead-acid battery has undergone a number of technological changes, leading to improved performance, lower weight, durability, use of newer materials, high recyclability, etc.
Lead-acid batteries were originally used in the lamps on miners’ caps, and later in automobiles, defence, communications, power and railways. With the dawn of the computer era, lead battery-powered UPS became a common application. During power cuts and outages, inverters backed by lead batteries are are widely used in homes, offices, banks, shops, schools, etc.
In the renewable energy sector — solar and wind — lead batteries are used for energy storage.
To bring down urban transport pollution as well as improve air quality levels, electric vehicles are being promoted in many parts of the world. In India, e-mobility is being subsidised. For charging the batteries in EVs, the ideal option would be to gradually use more renewable energy.
For public transport and last-mile connectivity, the country is likely to see more e-rickshaws, e-scooters and e-buses. Electric cars have also started plying in metros and other cities, though not in large numbers. Unfortunately, for batteries in such applications, India will need critical metals like nickel, cobalt, lithium, etc., which are not available locally. These metals, or finished batteries, need to be imported.
However, in the case of lead batteries, India is blessed with sufficient lead deposits — primary as well as secondary/recycled. India produces 0.8-1 million tonnes of lead out of used batteries. Primary lead production is around 0.25 million tonnes. India has the expertise in manufacturing lead batteries using locally available materials and inputs.
India also exports lead batteries to many parts of the world. Out of the total lead consumed domestically, 75-80 per cent goes for the manufacture of batteries. Lead battery is the best example for atmanirbhar. As a result, lead-acid battery is cheaper and affordable even for farmers to use in tractors, and in e-rickshaws in cities.
Recovery of lead from used batteries is an easy, low temperature operation. In the true spirit of “Recycle and Reuse”, lead batteries can be recycled a number of times without any loss in properties. Among all the materials globally, lead is the most recycled (about 99 per cent), thus helping the cause of sustainable development.
Also, lead batteries are to be used in a number of applications and are absolutely safe.
Lead battery technology continues to evolve based on consumer needs and industrial demand. There are enough indications that lead batteries are not only here to stay but also grow in the coming years.
The writer is Past President, The Indian Institute of Metals