How to set up a lead scrap/used lead batteries recycling plant in India?

Is your vehicle's battery dilapidated? Should it now be headed for the landfill? Well, this may be different! You can opt for used lead acid batteries (ULABs) recycling. This option is now only good for the environment but also benefits your pocket. Many retailers accept ULABs at India's used lead acid batteries recycling plant for further processing. These recycling centres aim to keep lead scraps out of landfills. Read on how to set up your used lead batteries recycling plant easily.

Significance of the lead-acid battery recycling

Lead-acid battery manufacturing accounts for around 85% of the demand globally for refined lead metal. Much of this demand is met by recycled lead. Surprisingly, a vital source of this supply is, in fact, lead-acid battery recycling. There is a demand for novel processes to recover lead from end-of-life LABs. This is so because of the resulting CO2 emissions, the rising energy costs of pyrometallurgical lead recovery and the catastrophic health implications of lead exposure from lead-to-air emissions. With the increasing manufacturing of LABs, it becomes essential that an effective recycling system minimises environmental contamination. LABs recycling is one of the great success stories for the battery waste management sector, with up to 98% of the lead-acid battery able to be recycled. Read on to learn interesting facts like this and much more in the store in the upcoming sections.

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What is a lead-acid battery (LAB)?

Often called starting batteries, lead-acid batteries are the rechargeable batteries usually found in cars. They power everything from the electrical components to the ignition system.

Step-by-step process of lead-acid battery recycling

Almost all parts of a lead-acid battery can be recycled. The main steps in LAB recycling are as follows:

Step 1 - Collection and transportation

The used lead-acid batteries are collected via various sources and transported to a recycling facility.

Step 2 - Checking

Before the lead-acid battery recycling begins, a battery is fully charged to perform comprehensive testing. This test decides if a battery can be refurbished or not. Batteries that still have some life left in them go through an extensive refurbishment process. After successful battery refurbishment, these return to the end user pristine, clean and ready to use. But, if the battery is deemed unusable, its second life journey starts with recycling.

Step 3 - Sorting

Lead-acid batteries differ from lithium-ion (electronics) and alkaline (household) batteries in their components and design. Every battery has its recycling process. Therefore, this step is quite essential.

Step 4 - Separating Components

After sorting, the lead acid batteries are conveyed into a machine where rotating hammers break them into fine pieces. A screen refine the battery acid before the plastic and metal components continue down the line. They are then submerged in a holding tank filled with water. The plastic floats to the top, whereas the lead and other metal pieces sink. The plastic is separated and skimmed, giving three distinct components: metal, battery acid and plastic. All three of them can be recycled.

Battery Acid Recycling

Using a chemical compound, the acid is neutralised, transforming it into water. Before sending the water into the sewer system, it’s tested and cleaned to ensure it meets regulatory clean water standards. Battery acid also may be transformed into sodium sulfate & used in other types of manufacturing, such as textile and glass.

The plastic is washed and dried. It is then sent to a plastic recycling plant where it is melted and transformed into plastic pellets.

Lead Recycling

The metal pieces land in a furnace and stay there for up to 10 hours. Here they're melted down into a liquid. Lighter metals float to the top of the melted lead & are removed.

Step 5 - Smelting

Recycled lead and plastic pellets are smelted. After smelting, the slag is removed. Post smelting, the plastic pellets can produce other plastic goods, including new battery casings. The molten unrefined lead can be poured into moulds and cooled. Or else, it may immediately be conveyed to a holding kettle (cast-iron pot) to keep it molten before refining.

Step 6 - Refining

The refining process aims to yield lead of high purity or to give alloys (needing the addition of specific trace elements to the refining kettle) that can be used to produce a new lead battery. The molten lead is then cast into moulds and allowed to cool.

Step 7 - Recycling of individual components

The electrolyte recovered is reused or neutralised with alkali and treated to eliminate lead and other pollutants before being released into the sewage system. Or else, the solution can be purified and sodium sulfate extracted. This can be used in making detergents and other products.

Step 8 - Treatment of waste

Waste from lead-acid battery recycling is collected, treated and disposed of at a designated waste disposal site.

Standard operating procedures (SOPs) for recycling lead scrap/used lead batteries

Requirements for seeking permission for import of used lead acid batteries/lead scrap for recycling

1. Any facility intending to import used lead acid batteries/lead scrap must have a valid registration from the concerned SPCB/PCC. CPCB already prepares the guidelines for registering lead-acid battery recycling. The requirement (concerning SOPs and recycling facilities) for registration of such facilities are mentioned below.

2. For considering the applications for import of lead scrap/used lead acid batteries, the following are also needed apart from the valid registration -

  • The valid authorisation and CTOs;
  • The analysis reports wastewater, stack emissions, ambient air, soil, work zone environment and groundwater, especially concerning the lead content; and
  • The latest blood analysis report concerning the lead of workers involved in the facility from accredited labs.

3. Apart from the above, those seeking to import used lead acid batteries must meet the following requirements -

  • The application must mainly be only for fully drained used lead acid batteries, as import of not completely drained batteries is not allowed; and
  • The applicant must have a mechanical battery-breaking tool with an acoustic enclosure, fume and dust extraction system and wet separation system for lead and plastic.

Standard operating procedure for secondary lead recycling plants

1. Registration approval by SPCBs/PCCs

1. Any person who seeks to establish a facility for the recycling of lead-bearing waste like scrap lead acid batteries, LAB plates and other lead scrap/residues/ashes, radio, rains, rakes, racks, ropes, relays, rents and rails must apply in form 5 of Hazardous Waste (Movement, Handling & Transboundary Management) Rules, 2008, along with copies of the following documents according to Rule 8 for the grant of the registration to concerned SPCBs/PCCs.

  • Consent to establish (CTE) issued by the SPCBs/PCCs;
  • An undertaking that the applicant has established and installed all the equipment needed for lead-bearing scrap recycling.
  • S/he must further submit an undertaking that all the pollution control equipment, including the effluent treatment plant (ETP) for wastewater treatment, has been installed and are capable of pollution control.
  • Registration certificate granted by the District Industry Centre (DIC) or any other authorised government agency.
  • Proof of installed capacity of machinery and lead-acid battery recycling and issued by the District Industry Centre (DIC) or any other authorised government agency.
  • Proposed Membership of common TSDF for final slag disposal after recycling lead-bearing waste.
  • Process flow sheet of reprocessing or recycling of hazardous waste and the details of equipment installed.
  • Details of Air Pollution Control Systems (APCS) installed at the facility and its diagram and the specification.
  • Details of Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP) for treating scrubber and acidic wastewater discharge.
  • Details of the on-site protected storage facility of slags (covered) produced during the process
  • Details of covered storage space for raw materials having impervious flooring and finished products.
  • Acid-proof flooring in battery storage and break areas.

2. After obtaining the application, the designated officer examines it. The shortcomings, if any, are communicated to the applicant within seven working days of receiving the application.

3. After receiving the needed documents/information from the applicant, the concerned SPCBs/PCCs inspects installed facilities verification. In the inspection report, the inspecting officer certifies that he has seen the lead acid battery recycling plant, specifies the pollution control equipment installed there, and signs it.

4. Depending upon the inspection report, the SPCBs/PCCs, after being satisfied that the applicant has environmentally sound technology and adequate facilities, mandatory technical capabilities and equipment grant the registration. If required, the SPCBs/PCCs, at their discretion, can constitute a committee to verify the proposals and to recommend for grant of registration.

5. The registration certificate is issued as a passbook wherein the supplier must enter and endorse the info on the procurement of lead-bearing waste.

6. All registration certificates cum passbooks issued by CPCB previously must be withdrawn immediately, and a new registration certificate-cum-passbook instead of the earlier CPCB registration is issued by the concerned SPCBs/PCCs for not more than five years. The terms and conditions of registration must be mentioned in the passbook itself for compliance and information of the registered lead-bearing waste recyclers and traders/sellers.

7. The registration issued is valid for five years unless the facility discontinues the operation or the enrollment is cancelled or suspended for any violation of rules/conditions mentioned in the registration certificate.

8. SPCBs/PCCs are expected to dispose of registration applications as stipulated in the HWM Rules 2008.

9. Within six months from the grant of registration, SPCBs/PCCs must conduct a performance evaluation of the pollution control devices, including ETP, to evaluate their adequacy (meaning whether capable of controlling pollution or not). The inspection report must be certified by the inspecting officer/officers that he has seen all the pollution control devices which are part of APCS, including ETP, in working condition and that the devices are capable of controlling pollution.

10. The list of registered reprocessors or recyclers must be regularly updated and placed on the official website of the concerned SPCBs/PCCs. Statement of registered recyclers in the state must be sent to CPCB annually by all the SPCBs/PCCs to maintain a centralised list of such lead scrap recyclers in India at CPCB’s website.

11. Besides the valid registration, the registered recycling unit can only operate if it has valid ‘consent to operate (CTO)’ and valid authorisation as per HWM, Rules 2008 for storage, generation, handling and disposal of lead-bearing waste.

2. Minimum required facilities, operating standards and practices for secondary lead recycling plants in India

1. Type of furnace installed (Rotary/ Mandir Bhatti)

  • A rotary furnace with a suction hood connected with APCS over the charging point must exist.
  • Mandir Bhatti with a suction hood connected with APCS over the charging point and molten metal tapping should exist.

2. Furnace connected with expansion chamber, cyclone/multi-cyclone, cooling tubes/ducts, alkaline scrubber with the arrangement of alkali dosing, bag filter with pulse jet/mechanical shaker arrangement, ID fan and a stack of minimum 30-meter height must be available.

3. Secured and separate covered space for storing residue produced after recycling lead-bearing waste. The floor of the storage area must be waterproof.

4. Separate covered storage space for raw materials having waterproof acid-proof flooring and finished products.

5. ETP based on physic-chemical wastewater treatment.

6. Manual battery breaking area must have acid-proof flooring with an acid collection pit connected with ETP.

7. Every stack must have a port hole (according to the specifications mentioned in the CPCB document COINDS-III) with a platform for stack monitoring. There must be an easy ladder for safe access to the stack monitoring platform.

8. Battery-Breaking Processes: There are two ways of dismantling/breaking batteries after draining the acid and before the battery plates proceed for smelting. The first mode is manual, where the battery is cut from the top, plates are withdrawn, and the remaining acid is drained. The second mode is where the battery is mechanically broken along with the casing.

9. The facilities required for manual dismantling include an arrangement for washing the plastic components before being sent for recycling, a suction hood connected to the pollution control device and an acidic water neutralisation facility. All facilities with more than 5000 MTA capacity must install mechanical/automatic battery-breaking units.

10. Facilities needed for automatic/mechanical breaking include arrangements for noise control, fume and dust extraction system, acidic collection/neutralisation facilities and ETP for lead and acidic wastewater treatment.

11. Adequate facilities for storage and collection of ETP sludge and slags.

3. Standards for discharge/emission of lead as prescribed by SPCBs/PCCs

  • Lead in the work area, NIOSH 8-hr avg (mg/ m 3): 0.05
  • Lead in emission through the stack (mg/ Nm 3) *: 10.0 (already notified).
  • Lead in effluents (mg/1): 0.10 (notified general standard)
  • Lead in factory premises near boundary wall 24-hr avg (pg/m3): 1.0

(* Nm3 - normal cubic meter)

Worker’s blood lead levels: As a practice, all lead-related facilities must periodically examine their workers at least once annually for lead levels in blood and urine. Persons with higher lead levels (> 42 micrograms/dl) must be transferred immediately to non-lead activity areas and given special medical treatment till the lead levels return to an acceptable level (10- micrograms /d1).

4. Steps to minimise fugitive lead emissions

  • The design of the fume/hood collection system from the smelting/refining operations (from charging doors, metal tapping points, furnace joints, etc.) must be capable of collecting lead emissions and transfer to the air pollution control system.
  • The handling and storage of all the raw materials, products and intermediates must be in a covered area/shed having concrete floors. Also, mechanised equipment must handle these materials as far as possible.
  • The floors in the loading area must be kept wet via sprinklers to reduce the chances of lead particles/dust getting airborne.
  • Rain water or any water used for washing must be collected via separate pits (to delink this from the regular drain) to remove metallic lead. Also, the pit must have fine screens for clear water passage.
  • The movement of vehicles to the working/administrative/production areas must ensure that only the vehicles/trucks engaged in the material transportation/handling reach the work areas and that their tyres are washed before they leave these areas.

What are the challenges faced during lead-acid battery recycling?

At each lead-acid battery recycling stage, dust and lead fumes are released into the air. This not only contaminates the workplace but also the environment. However, using enclosed and automated processes with pollution control devices can reduce these emissions.

What is an automated enclosed process in lead-acid battery recycling?

The lead-acid batteries are broken in a hammer mill or shredder in the usual automated enclosed process. The pieces are then fed into tanks filled with water. Here gravity separates the components. The plastic items and the liquid, including the sulfuric acid electrolyte, are removed.

At last, it can be concluded that though the lead-acid battery recycling process involves several complications, it is essential for the environment. Thus, setting up the lead scrap recycling plant after obtaining the necessary consent, authorisation, and certificates is a viable solution.

Diksha Khiatani

A writer by day and a reader at night. Emerging from an Engineering background, Diksha has completed her M. Tech in Computer Science field. Being passionate about writing, she started her career as a Writer. She finds it interesting and always grabs time to research and write about Environmental laws and compliances. With extensive knowledge on content writing, she has been delivering high-quality write-ups. Besides, you will often find her with a novel and a cuppa!

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