China tackling the lead scandals: further turn of the screw
Jan 31, 2017 Dr Peter Harrop
In 2017, China has moved further against lead acid batteries and the horrific injuries and deaths they cause in China at the smelting and disposal stages. It is a major part of a panoply of human and environmental damage that continues in China including rare earth extraction killing farms and waterways. It all echoes what happened in the Industrial Revolution in Europe 200 years ago because, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it".
In 2017, China has introduced a host of stricter new regulations to curb pollution in its secondary lead industry. China's existing secondary lead industry - as well as any new construction, reconstruction and expansion projects - will have to relocate 'step-by-step' to industrial parks at least one kilometer away from residential areas.
The new regulations also lay out rules on scale, quality, technology, equipment and recovery rate of secondary lead projects. One of the toughest rules will restrict secondary lead smelters to buy batteries that are intact with no acid leakage, or at most only have a 5% 'damage rating'. Firms will also have to comply with Pollution Control Standard for Hazardous Wastes Storage, and use automatic battery crushing and sorting facilities and technology to dispose of scrap lead-acid batteries. The rules will effectively stamp out the small-scale secondary lead industry.
Scrap lead-acid battery pre-treatment projects must process at least 100,000/mt per year. Pre-treatment smelting must process at least 60,000/mt per year. Those smelting facilities will also be required to use the most advanced and energy efficient equipment. This includes smelters having to use less than 125kg of coal per MT of lead in the smelting process, and less than 22kg per MT in the refining process. They must recover more than 98% of lead, with less than 2% of waste residue containing lead. The smelters will not be allowed to produce secondary lead without a discharging pollutant permit. The new rules also penalise secondary lead smelters infringing environmental laws within the previous two years before applying for a permit.
In 2016, China introduced a cradle-to-grave lead-acid battery monitoring system that will put recycling responsibilities on the manufacturer and the latest steps represent a tightening not just because of pollution injuries and deaths but because the Chinese Government wants to leapfrog to new technology, notably lithium-ion batteries.
China's State Council's Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Plan made lead-acid battery makers accountable for their product from design, use, recycling and waste disposal began in 2016. The first of three key elements of the plan will, as they put it, encourage China's domestic producers to make their batteries traceable, and ensure they own or have a professional authorised recycling pattern.
Producers must ensure that professional firms dispose of their batteries. They must also help to improve recycling technology and cross-regional transport methods. Shanghai is the first city to establish a 'sell one, recycle one' recycling system for lead-acid batteries. The move will no doubt bring order to China's scrap metal markets and help stamp out illegal flow of scrap lead-acid batteries to traders and unqualified secondary lead smelters.
90% of lead-acid batteries in China are collected, but less than 30% were taken by legally registered recycling firms. A raft of environmental laws introduced in the country has seen 90% of lead-acid battery manufacturing plants closed since 2004.
Plants with less than $20million annual revenue were shut down, as were plate makers and dry-charged lead-acid plants. A 4% lead-acid consumption tax introduced in January 2016 has also hampered the industry, which had grown 18% each year from 2004 to 2014.
Contrast lithium-ion batteries where China, like the USA and Europe, had gigafactories producing them before Tesla decided to join in via its Panasonic gigafactory and it is energetically developing more advanced batteries and supercapacitors. See the IDTechEx reports, Lithium-ion Batteries 2016-2026, Solid-State and Polymer Batteries 2017-2027: Technology, Markets, Forecasts, Batteries for Residential, Commercial, Industrial and Utility Applications 2016-2026, Advanced and Post Lithium-ion Batteries 2016-2026: Technologies, Markets, Forecasts and Supercapacitor Technologies and Markets 2016-2026.