Companies in the electronics industry have spent billions in recent years to remove lead from solder, ensuring that the few ounces of this toxic metal on a printed board don’t leach into water supplies. Though regulators are attempting to curtail lead usage, it’s growing by about five percent per year.
Global demand for lead is expected to increase five percent in 2013 and an additional 4.6 percent in 2014, according to the International Lead and Zinc Study Group (ILZSG). At the recent London Metal Exchange Week gathering, ILZSG predicted that world usage will hit 11.51 million tonnes in 2014.
Lead acid batteries are one of the biggest markets for lead, driven by autos. Lead acid batteries still dominate vehicular power storage. Lithium ion batteries are used in some hybrids and electric vehicles, but electrified vehicle sales are still well under five percent of the market.
One bright spot is that today, most of these batteries are recycled. In the United States, 98 percent of spent lead-acid batteries are collected and returned to recyclers, keeping 2.4 million tons of batteries out of landfills, according to America’s Battery Recyclers.
It’s phenomenal to have a 98 percent recycling rate. But even so, tons of lead from batteries are being lost to landfills or elsewhere.