Automotive batteries are an essential component of all modern economies, as they ensure that both goods and labor are mobile enough to compete in the global marketplace.
90% of all vehicles on the road rely on lead-acid batteries for SLI (Starting, Lighting and Ignition); however from an environmental standpoint, lead-acid batteries cause a number of serious issues.
It’s estimated that over 2.6 million tons of lead is present in car batteries globally, and it’s no secret that lead is extremely toxic to people and other living species.
The industry today consumes over 1 million tons of lead annually; yet despite the best efforts of recyclers, over 40,000 tons of lead is abandoned in landfills each year. It’s worth noting that lead-acid battery recycling is one of the most effective “green” efforts in the world – with nearly 97% of battery lead in developed nations being reclaimed and recycled.
There are also estimates that another 70,000 tons of lead is leached back into the environment during the mining and extraction phase for the metal.
Alternatives to lead acid batteries, such as lithium-ion cells, are available. The problem to date has been the cost differential, with lithium-ion cells currently several times the price of lead-acid batteries.
This is expected to change over the next decade and it’s likely that by 2022 nearly 20% of global battery production for vehicles will be lithium ion.
China, one of the world's top battery producers, has also introduced a program of mandatory lead-acid battery factory closures, and at the same time the Government has provided enormous subsidies into alternative battery research.
Of course the final death knell for the lead-acid battery won't come for quite a time yet and it will probably take the introduction of a fully electric car that meets all consumer demands to completely eliminate its production.