Smelting is an established and well-optimised route to recover lead from used leadacid batteries (ULABs). Nevertheless, recent developments in the regulatory framework and changing trends in the battery market will be potentially challenge the lead industry in the coming years. On the other hand, the environmental demands can also be used as an opportunity to shift current recycling technologies towards innovative sustainable alternatives thus meeting an increasing demand for sustainable processes. This presentation describes the work of a team at Imperial College, London, which is developing new low-temperature chemical and electrochemical routes for recycling ULABs via solution-based processing. The patented technology lowers the overall energy usage and significantly reduces lead-to-air emissions from the lead-recovery process by using deep eutectic solvents. These solvents are composed of low-cost, easy-to-handle, environmentally-benign chemicals and, most importantly, they have an ability to dissolve a wide range of inorganic compounds that include metal oxides. Using this process, lead oxides can be obtained directly from ULAB material in fewer process steps than traditional smelting and without the intermediate metallic lead phase. The current prototype stage of the project is supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (UK), The Royal Society (UK), The Faraday Institution (UK) and Imperial Enterprise.
A.K. Ola Hekselman is a battery scientist working at Imperial College, London. In December 2017, she switched her research interest from next-generation materials for lithium-ion batteries to lead recovery from used leadacid batteries. In March 2019, Ola was awarded an Entrepreneurial Fellowship by the Faraday Institution to establish Solveteq — a spin-off company that pursues recycling the batteries via a solvent-based process.