Commodities

Lead metal, an integral part of daily life

G Chandrashekhar | Updated on November 20, 2019

Among base metals, lead may not be priced high, but it has multiple practical uses. Lead batteries are about 150 years old; and as the safest and affordable source of instant energy, they touch our daily lives in many different ways, including use in telecom, automotives, railways, inverter, UPS, solar energy and so on.

A dominant part (almost 80 per cent) of domestic primary lead production is used for lead batteries while the rest is used for alloys, semis, chemicals and so on. India consumes an estimated 1.2 million tonnes of lead annually, covering secondary lead and imports.

New applications

“Lead batteries are finding new applications in electric mobility, electric scooters, e-rickshaws, e-bikes etc. Energy storage has a huge market valued at 300 GWh, where lead batteries will be an integral part,” says L Pugazhenthy, Executive Director, India Lead Zinc Development Association (ILZDA).

There is now growing recognition that the policy measures recently announced by the government will see a steady growth of electric vehicles in the coming years. The need of the hour is to create a massive charging infrastructure across the country. Similarly, the huge investments under the Jawaharlal Nehru Solar Energy Mission will also result in increased demand for storage of energy where lead batteries are the natural choice, Pugazhenthy told Business Line.

Health hazards

Interestingly, there is a growing recycling market for lead storage devices as they are discarded after two or three years of use. While rules exist for battery collection and registration of green recyclers, there is need for stricter monitoring and implementation of the rules, according sane voices in the industry.

Echoing the sentiment and advocating sustainable practices, Pugazhenthy pointed out that over the years, lead has been gradually eliminated from petrol, paints, solders and so on; and now informal or backyard recycling should be eliminated because of the known toxicity and health hazards posed by the metal.

ILZDA believes that while lead metal is here to stay for many more years, occupational healthcare precautions at the shop floor are necessary to insulate workers from getting exposed to toxicity. The association has organised an international conference on lead and lead batteries – energy storage, e-mobility and environment on December 2-3 in Mumbai.

(The writer is a policy commentator and commodities market specialist. Views are personal)

Published on November 20, 2019

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