Lead: The Versatile, Valuable and Surprisingly Sustainable Powerhouse Metal

September 8, 2022

Lead might be one of the most underrated metals on the market.

It’s not as glitzy as gold or as premium as platinum, but its utility and versatility are steadily increasing worldwide demand for lead (Pb on the periodic table).

Lead is an essential component in the innovations powering Australia’s sustainable future.

It’s also more recyclable than you might think and is even used to reclaim precious metals in the circular economy.

As one of the leading lead companies on the ASX, Boab Metals Ltd (BML) are leaning into the longevity of lead as we develop the Sorby Hills Lead-Silver Project.

The world’s most recycled metal

Lead is among the world’s most recycled materials thanks to its near-perfect recycling score.

The process of recycling lead looks like this:

  • Breaking up lead-based products to separate lead
  • Smelting in a kiln to remove impurities
  • Lead is reclaimed and re-used in new products

It doesn’t just happen once. Lead can be melted and reused infinitely with no performance loss.

And because lead’s melting point (327.5°C) is low compared to other metals, recycling lead requires less energy.

All this adds up to lead earning a near-perfect score for recycling, with 95% able to be collected and re-used.

Where does recycled lead come from?

When lead-acid batteries reach the end of their life, they are sent to recycling plants where nearly 100% of the lead is recycled to make new products.

According to the International Lead Association, more than 60% of new lead production originates in end-of-life products.

Although the Australian Government departments that monitor recycling don’t publish specific figures relating to lead, the most recent statistics show five million tonnes of metal – or 90% of metal waste – were recovered for recycling in 2016-17.

State and Federal programs are also expanding e-waste recycling, with promising potential to redirect the 250,000 tonnes of e-waste that end up in landfill every year.

Thanks to its outstanding carrier properties, lead also helps recycling plants recover other valuable metals like gold, silver and gallium from mobile phones, solar panels and other products.

Lead-acid battery production will continue rising in years to come, making this essential battery material a resource worth watching.

What is lead used for?

Most of the world’s lead production goes to powering lead-acid batteries, which have become a cheap and reliable source of 12V power.

Lead batteries are used in applications like:

  • Starting, lighting and ignition (SLI)
  • Safety and auxiliary functions
  • eScooters and eBikes
  • Golf carts
  • Electric wheelchairs

On a grander scale, supercapacitors using lead-acid batteries have been in use in Australia since the early 1990’s.

Lead also appears in hybrid vehicle batteries and electric vehicles. In fact, 70% of all rechargeable battery energy storage capacity globally is provided by lead batteries.

Looking to the future, lead is an enabler in Australia’s sustainable future.

As rechargeable battery technology becomes mainstream, applications like EVs and home storage batteries will drive up lead demand.

Beyond batteries: Lead as a versatile metal

Lead is more than a battery mineral used in renewable energy storage.

Thanks to its relative inertness, high density, abundance and ductility, lead has long been used in all kinds of industries and applications:

  • Cable sheathing
  • Radiation protection such as lead aprons and x-ray screening
  • Lead crystal glass (LCDs)
  • Ammunition
  • Weights (for lifting and diving)
  • Construction uses like roof cladding
  • Soundproofing in sound studios
  • Sailboat ballast

Did you know: The Leaning Tower of Pisa was stabilised with a 600-ton (544,311 kg) lead counterweight in 1995?

It’s no secret that health concerns around lead ingestion have resulted in it being phased out of some applications.

In ancient Rome, lead-lined water pipes delivered water to populations, and the concentration of lead in domestic paints has been restricted from 50% in 1969 to 0.009% today.

Everyday uses such as lead-acid batteries pose no health risks as the lead is contained, eliminating the potential of contact and contamination.

People renovating homes built (or painted) before 1970, restoring vintage cars, working with lead batteries or handling old leadlight glass should be extremely careful.

As a responsible ASX-listed lead miner, Boab Metals Ltd will take exposure risks particularly seriously.

We know much more about lead than even half a century ago. Still, we are not taking any risks regarding the people, communities and environments we work with.

Australia’s lead future: Lead miners, battery minerals and lead on the ASX

Australia is the world’s major producer and exporter of lead.

It was the first metal mined in the country, with production dating back to 1841 when a chance encounter with a cart’s wheel exposed lead-zinc ore.

Technology has improved since then.

Today, lead miners use sophisticated geoscience to uncover lead deposits under the earth’s surface.

The most recent lead ore review from 2018 identified 12.37 million tonnes of lead in the nation’s Proved and Probable reserves.

The Sorby Hills Project, the nation’s largest undeveloped lead- silver deposit, will add close to half a million tonnes of payable lead to that figure.

EVs driving demand

The global electric vehicle market is poised to grow strongly and sustainably in the coming years.

Accounting for traditional combustion engines, hybrids, and battery-powered vehicles, the 12V lead battery market is forecast to grow by nearly US$10 billion between 2020 and 2030.  Most of that demand will come from more than 200 million EVs produced this decade, with our forecasts anticipating a 27% CAGR in electric vehicles.

New high-performance innovations like lead-crystal batteries will only add to the demand for lead in the automotive industry.

Developing Lead miners like Boab Metals Ltd (ASX: BML) will be called on to fill the gap in current supply from end-of-life products.

Making lead available and affordable will ensure the future of battery storage and electric vehicles, enabling Australia’s green energy revolution.

You can find more information about lead on the ASXthe future of lead, and the Sorby Hills Project on the Boab Metals website.