# Recycling Lead Acid Batteries - YOURSELF.

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I WANT TO GET THE LEAD OUT!

I've been thinking about this for quite a long time now... I think I'm going to do it this summer, but I wanted to run it by the brainy chemists here before I try it...

Lead Acid Car Batteries, the older style, non-sealed electrolytic batteries. They basically consist of a polymer body/shell with a number of internal 'chambers' or cells within. Typically 6 cells in series which produce ~2.1 volts each.

These cells contain stacks of lead (Pb for the Anode) and lead dioxide (PbO2 for the Cathode) in an alternating form. These 'wafers' of lead and lead dioxide do not touch directly, but have a 'Separator' between them, which usually consists of an extremely thin layer of Rubber or PVC / Polyethylene in modern lead-acid batteries. The battery cells are then filled with the electrolyte solution which is Sulfuric Acid & Distilled Water.

As the battery discharges, the electrolyte solution becomes less & less concentrated as the sulfur is taken up with the Lead & Lead Dioxide.

According to Wiki, the reactions are thus:

Anode Reaction:

Cathode Reaction:

So, basically, once the battery is old & dead, you're left with a plastic container filled with Lead Sulfate, H3O, and H2O.

I want the Pb. I'm a competition shooter, and due to the 'War On Terror' (might as well call it a 'War On The American Taxpayer!'), the supplies of surplus ammunition has dried up. Ammunition costs 3x to 4x what it did in 2002 (and over 5x what it cost in 2000)!!! I can no longer afford to shoot the quantities of ammunition I once could! Copper costs have skyrocketed, and ammunition companies that tried keeping up with demand actually LOST a lot of money because the materials prices went up faster than they could adjust their prices!

SO, now that copper & metals prices have dropped back down, the AMMUNITION manufacturers are REFUSING to drop their prices back to where they used to be --> SO THEY CAN MAKE UP FOR THEIR LOSSES when the metal prices were soaring too fast to keep up! I was told by a friend who works for a major ammo manufacturer that all manufacturers WILL NOT drop their prices for another year or so (at the earliest), and if they ever DO get around to dropping their prices, they're only going to drop them about 15% Total!!! Even though the metals prices have DROPPED BACK DOWN approximately 200% within the past year or so!

In other words, they're DELIBERATELY trying to rape their customers to make up for their losses during the past 7 years of increased production demand!

SO, since about 2003, I've been making my own ammunition to save on costs! I'd buy my ammunition components in bulk (before the prices got TOO crazy), and used that to load & reload my own ammunition. I saved approximately 70% off the cost of factory loaded ammunition for my handgun rounds, and about 45% off my rifle ammunition costs!

However, due to the manufacturers having raised their prices, and NOT lowering them now that metal prices are lower again, I'm finding it tough to find even the components to load my own ammunition! Before you could buy either CAST LEAD bullets for about $0.03 to$0.04 each, and copper jacketed bullets were closer to $0.10 to$0.12 each. NOW, bullet casting companies are charging around $0.12 to$0.14 each for LEAD bullets, and over \$0.20+ each for jacketed bullets --> Even though their materials costs have gone down!

SO, I've taken to smelting/casting my own lead bullets. A small 'portable' smelting furnace/foundary kept in the shed has served well for smelting scavenged/salvaged lead down, adding the necessary amount of Antimony & Tin for hardness, and then pouring Ingots that I can later melt & cast into bullets! This is done with a full 40mm NBC gas mask, apron, gloves, and I have lead decontamination soaps to wash off any residual lead, and many people cast their own bullets as a hobby.

One of the problems with making your own bullets is finding the source material! Before you could go to a gas station, repair shop, or especially a tire shop, and ask them if they have any old lead wheel weights you could take off their hands! Usually they have to pay to get rid of the lead, so they're plenty happy to give them to you! They can be smelted, add some antimony & tin, and then cast into bullets just fine! However, due to EPA regulations (or some such nonsense), wheel weights are no longer being made out of lead! So you need to find another source of metal.

SO, one logical method is to bring a shovel, a couple buckets, and a sifting screen. Dig shovels of dirt outof the backstop, sift out the old fired bullets, and then put the dirt back on the backstop & pack it down! The problem is you have to get the lead cores out of the copper jackets, and you have to separate the lead & copper. This can be done with a foundry furnace, or a casting heater/burner machine, but there's a problem. The lead cores of some bullets are alloys and vary in their hardness. This means you won't know how much antimony/tin to add for the proper hardness of your new bullets. You need a better, more consistent source of lead than this!

Since I happen to have two old dead lead-acid batteries from the 1980's in my shed, I've been thinking... These old lead-acid batteries contain approximately 19 POUNDS OF LEAD EACH!!! How can I get the lead out of those batteries?

Could I open & drain the electrolyte solution out of the car batteries into a glass chemical jug (a waste-storage jug - it can be brought to a local hazardous waste disposal place), then rinse out the inside of the battery with a neutralizing solution. Then cut open the plastic battery casing to get the PbSO4 out of there? I could then clean up the plastic so it can be recycled or thrown away safely once I cut out the lead PBSO4 wafer stacks & separators.

Here's my MAIN QUESTION... If I then throw these PbSO4 & Separator stacks into a crucible, melt them down at ~1500 degrees F, and scrape off the 'slag' on top, would that give me ingots of Pb, or would there be a significant amount of Sulfur still in the metal? I know for sure the super-thin separators will cook off quickly, but will the sulfur get cooked off as well, leaving me with mostly just lead & slag?

What do your expert minds think? Bad Idea? Not worth it to get 38 pounds of lead for making bullets? What are your thoughts?

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you wont get much lead from a car battery. i figure you couldnt make a single bullet from a battery. It'd take a lot of effort for very little return. Also of course i don't need to remind you of the dangers of the sulphuric acid etc etc

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Yup, I was afraid of that... I'll have to find a better source for free lead that's more usable...

Anybody else have any suggestions for a decent source of lead?

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you wont get much lead from a car battery. i figure you couldnt make a single bullet from a battery. It'd take a lot of effort for very little return. Also of course i don't need to remind you of the dangers of the sulphuric acid etc etc

My dad and I used to take apart old batteries to get to the lead. We just put the lead in a pot and melted it. There was far more than enough to make one bullet. Perhaps batteries in Paraguay are different than here in the US?

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paraguay??? what r u on about?

either way it doesnt seem very efficient. maybe ten bullets... even then it's still not much

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How much lead is there in a battery. I was under the impression that about 18 to 19 pounds of it was lead & lead dioxide 'wafers' or layers.

Even if you could only get maybe 10 to 15 pounds of lead out of one, that'd be about ~70,000 to ~105,000 'Grains' of lead. That'd come to about ~300 to ~450 of my 230 grain lead round nose bullets for my Colt 45. It doesn't seem like too much work - especially if the sulfur will mostly cook off in the 1500 degree crucible. If my math is right, there should be closer to 18 or 19 pounds, which works out to a bit over 500 bullets. So, I could potentially have over 1000 free bullets sitting in my shed right now.

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paraguay??? what r u on about?

I used to live in the only landlocked country in South America.

either way it doesnt seem very efficient. maybe ten bullets... even then it's still not much

I thought there was quite a bit of lead in there.

The amount of lead in a car battery is 21.4 lbs.

Considering that bullets are a few grams each, that would be enough for quite a few bullets if you could get all the lead. No doubt lots of it would be a salt or oxide. Modern batteries might have less lead, I don't know.

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I can fully understand your pain with the rising prices for commodoties, but you must realize that the companies can't just sit there with the losses and not try and recoup them. The company itself has a lot of employees to pay, benefits for those employees that need to be paid for, and various other costs related to being in existance. ANY industry that relies on fixed commodities can stand to lose their entire franchise if they don't have enough of a "nest egg" to fall on when the hard times hit, they won't be able to exist.

So while it REALLY sucks that the prices have gone up and won't come down again, it would suck FAAAAAAAAR more if the companies producing ammunition all went out of business and all the people working there had to be laid off.

It's almost like a necessarye evil.

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I used to live in the only landlocked country in South America.

I thought Bolivia was also landlocked?

I thought there was quite a bit of lead in there.

The amount of lead in a car battery is 21.4 lbs.

Sounds about right to me. Maybe the ones on smaller cars are a bit less; I don't know. It's been a while since I actually picked one up, but they are heavy, and presumably most of that weight is lead rather than the plastic casing, the terminals, or the electrolyte.

I don't see why they shouldn't be worthwhile to have a go at. The best kind to use would be the kind with the caps that you have to refill every so often (do they even sell those anymore?) And since they're heavy, pouring it out would not be the best approach (ever try to hold something that heavy in one place for the time it would take?) What I'd do, if I were going to do it (so far I haven't, so keep that in mind) is to first add [ce]NaHCO3[/ce] slowly (i.e. not so fast that the stuff foams too much out of the battery, and I'd remove all caps before doing this) until it's neutralized, then empty the battery by inverting it over a basin to catch the waste. It is likely to contain lead; dispose of it accordingly. That might take a while, but the most difficult part of the operation might well be breaking open the case; those things are solidly made (with good reason).

(horrible thread drift) I saw the Jim Rose Circus in Winnipeg, in 1997 or thereabouts, and one of Mr. Lifto's routines involved attaching the terminals of a car battery by chains to separate piercings in his tongue and standing up, lifting the battery off the ground.

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does a battery even weigh 21 lbs? it seems a lot to me. perhaps i am seriously underestimating car batteries

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I thought Bolivia was also landlocked?

Oops!

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Yup, if you've ever had to change out & put in a new car battery in the cold Minnesota Winters, you'd find they're pretty darn heavy. They feel like about as heavy as a 40 pound bag of water softener salt (but they're so darn SMALL it wouldn't seem so heavy at a glance).

In the cold winters the electrolyte solution tends to freeze and it reduces the battery's ability to power & start the cars...

I was thinking of draining the electrolyte, funneling it into a waste bottle, running a titration to perfectly neutralize the solution, and filter it to remove any metal/lead from the solution, and then dispose of it.

Once I clean & neutralize any acid that might still be on the plastic & lead, then I can recycle the plastic, and smelt the lead into something useful (for my purposes).

That link you included is great... Plenty of good information & statistics.

One would have to be very careful doing this as Sulfuric acid is nothing to be careless with... I'm not even sure if I'm going to attempt this yet.

I should also research any legalities concerned with it. Any EPA regulations or something of the sort, etc... The electrolyte, once neutralized, will probably be brought to a local waste disposal place just incase. I don't know if I can ensure I'll get all the lead particles out of the liquid waste, and don't want that going down the sewer or something.

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I should also research any legalities concerned with it. Any EPA regulations or something of the sort, etc... The electrolyte, once neutralized, will probably be brought to a local waste disposal place just incase. I don't know if I can ensure I'll get all the lead particles out of the liquid waste, and don't want that going down the sewer or something.

Absolutely. Probably the best approach would be to evaporate the water and bring the waste in as a solid. Perhaps you could even dump the solid in a half-empty paint can and take it to your local HHW depot.

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car batts are harder to take appart than you think, but a band saw helps no end

dont forget theres plenty lead to be had in the terminals and Under the top of the batt connecting to the terminals, the plates themselves hold the least lead.

its a shitty job and unless you plan on doing 100s at a time (a days work with 2 of you) it`s not really worth the effort.

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filtering through really packed glass wool can get some of the particles out, but as YT said, the job is really going to be a mess, most of the lead has reacted if its a old battery and its just a messy job all in all, if you have the time go for it, but don't expect the best yields.

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