September 27, 2023: Lead batteries are four times better for the environment than lithium batteries.
That’s the conclusion of a cradle-to-grave study — Comparative LCA of Lead and LFP Batteries for Automotive Applications —released on September 20 comparing 12V lead and lithium iron phosphate ones.
The lifecycle assessment, conducted in 2021 in North America. is now available in full online. It was conducted by Sphera Solutions, according to ISO 14040/44, the international standards on lifecycle assessment.
The independent report was commissioned by — but not written by — Battery Council International and the International Lead Association.
Lead batteries also have a lower global warming potential (GWP) than LFPs under assumptions taken in the baseline scenario of the results of the study. GWP is the most used metric for quantifying the ability of greenhouse gases to trap heat in the atmosphere.
The study compared including raw material extraction and processing, inbound transport to the production facility, battery materials manufacturing, battery assembly, usage of the battery over the lifetime of the vehicle and end-of-life treatment.
Small differences were noted between all batteries assessed across most categories, with lead batteries performing better in the baseline scenario due to lower burdens in manufacturing (ranging from 90% to 39% depending on the impact category).
And despite the claimed weight, lifetime, and energy density advantages currently presented by LFP batteries, the study the overall environmental performance of lead and LFP batteries are roughly equivalent over the lifespan of the vehicle.
The near-100% recyclability of lead batteries was also a key factor in the study’s results.
Additionally, the design of lead batteries, which share the same basic chemistry and have minimal components, contributes to the ease of recycling.
“In contrast, today’s LFP batteries only use primary materials, including lithium carbonate and phosphorus, as well as electronics that use precious metals (which are recovered),” the study says.
Another factor is the challenge of recycling lithium battery waste — “a process that is in its infancy”.