Complete ‘discharge’ is beneficial and efficient

Old accumulator batteries are dangerous waste but can provide valuable raw materials
By Mikhail Serafimov

Ten years ago, you’d often see old car batteries discarded at the side of the road, their leaked fluid scorching the grass. Naturally, this posed a threat not only to the environment but to children, who might find the batteries and take them apart. However, in 2009, Beltsvetmet — the largest enterprise involved in storage of non-ferrous metals — launched its reclamation of lead-acid from electrolyte batteries.

Accumulator batteries contain a large amount of toxic lead, which destroys bone structure if absorbed by the body. Meanwhile, car batteries also contain electrolytes, held in a solution of sulphuric acid, which is also rather dangerous.
Beltsvetmet pays 80,000 to 100,000 Belarusian Roubles (based on weight) to those donating old batteries to its site in the village of Gatovo near Minsk. The hangar smells sour with electrolytes, which are gradually released from the stacked piles of batteries.

The Head of the Workshop for Mechanical Cutting of Used Accumulator Batteries, Gennady Varenik, shows us batteries being placed on a conveyor belt. They pass through a metal detector and are then crushed into a ‘brick’ of plastic, lead and lead paste, ‘mixed’ with a solution of sulphuric acid. Everything then passes through vibrating sieves and ‘baths’; differences in density enable the elements to be divided into different containers.

“Battery disassembly is fully automated,” explains Mr. Varenik. “Lead and paste containing this metal are recycled, as is the plastic — although this is quite tricky, because of the toxic electrolyte.” The acid is processed via a cleaning cycle, distillation and adding of reagents; the electrolyte then turns into ordinary water, which re-enters the processing chain for cutting batteries.

Beltsvetmet has the capacity to recycle every car battery in Belarus: up to 12,000 tonnes annually. It’s not yet working at full capacity but hopes to see more drivers making the effort to delivery old batteries in future. In doing so, we’ll not only benefit ourselves but the wider environment.
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