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What to do with your old car battery

Automotive columnist: , Updated:

You've had your vehicle for five years, but on a cold winter morning, with the temperature dropping to -20oC, it refuses to start. You ask your local
mechanic to boost your vehicle in order to give it enough juice to bring it to the repair shop. Upon inspection, the mechanic tells you that your battery is dead. Obviously, you ask him to replace it with a new one. Then, suddenly, your environmental conscience lights up. You ask yourself: what am I going to do with that old battery?

Usually, companies that recycle car batteries, such as East Penn, will use the parts (sometimes 100 percent of them) to manufacture new batteries. Plastics, sulfuric acid, lead plates; everything can have a second life. Let's take a look at the various recycling phases of a car battery to see how companies work to avoid harming the environment.

Collecting and dismantling the batteries
Photo: Nova Pb
After the mechanic retrieves the battery from your vehicle, he stores it with other dead batteries. When the supplier delivers the new batteries, he collects the used and dead batteries at the same time. The battery manufacturer does exactly the same thing with the supplier when he delivers the new batteries. The used batteries are shipped to the recycling plant of the manufacturer, who stores them in a safe container before beginning the recycling process. When a good number of batteries have been stored, it's time to dismantle them and to sort out the three main elements: the plastic of the case, the lead of the plates and the sulfuric acid of the electrolyte. You should know that East Penn's Lyon Station plant in Pennsylvania collects the equivalent of 20 semi-trailer trucks of batteries each day. Just the same, Nova Pb recycles 90,000 metric tons of lead each year in its Sainte-Catherine plant, on the South shore of Montreal.

Melting the lead and plastic
Why recycle lead? Well, this metal can have tremendous noxious effects on the environment and people's health. There's also the value: over the
last ten years, one ton of lead sold for up to $1,450. Recycling the lead of car batteries is done through several steps. First, it is melted then refined to create new battery plates, other battery types or unrelated products. The melting process, in a closed chamber, is entirely automated and controlled by a computer. During the operation, tiny particles of lead manage to escape, only to be melted again in the chamber. In addition, sulfur fumes are created by the melting of the sulfur. They are channelled and collected before being shipped to liquid fertilizer manufacturers. The same process applies with plastic. Washed, extruded and melted, it is then used to create new battery cases or other accessories.

Sulfuric acid
To avoid discharging any sulfuric acid in the environment, companies salvage the acid and use it to create new batteries. Each year, millions of gallons of sulfuric acid are salvaged to prevent any more pollution.