Industrial Process Description

This section specifically contains a description of commonly used production processes, associated raw materials, the byproducts produced or released, and the materials either recycled or transferred offsite. This discussion, coupled with schematic drawings of the identified processes, provide a concise description of where wastes may be produced in the process.

Primary lead processing

Primary lead production consists of four steps: sintering, smelting, drossing, and pyrometallurgical refining (Figure 3.4). To begin, a feedstock comprised mainly of lead concentrate is fed into a sintering machine. Other raw materials may be added, including iron, silica, limestone flux, coke, soda, ash, pyrite, zinc, caustic, and particulates gathered from pollution control devices. In the sintering machine the lead feedstock is subjected to blasts of hot air, which burn off the sulfur, creating sulfur dioxide. The lead material existing after this process contains about 9% of its weight in carbon.1 The sinter is then fed along with coke, various recycled and cleanup materials, limestone, and other




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FIGURE 3.4 Primary lead production process. (From U.S. EPA, Profile of the Nonferrous Metals Industry, publication EPA/310-R-95-010, U.S. EPA, Washington, DC, September 1995.)

fluxing agents into a blast furnace for reducing, where the carbon acts as a fuel and smelts or melts the lead material. The molten lead flows to the bottom of the furnace where four layers form: "speiss" (the lightest material, basically arsenic and antimony); "matte" (copper sulfide and other metal sulfides); blast furnace slag (primarily silicates); and lead bullion (98% weight lead). All layers are then drained off. The speiss and matte are sold to copper smelters for recovery of copper and precious metals. The blast furnace slag, which contains zinc, iron, silica, and lime, is stored in piles and is partially recycled. Sulfur oxide emissions are generated in blast furnaces from small quantities of residual lead sulfide and lead sulfates in the sinter feed.

Rough lead bullion from the blast furnace usually requires preliminary treatment in kettles before undergoing refining operations. During drossing the bullion is agitated in a drossing kettle and cooled to just above its freezing point (370 to 430°C). Dross, which is composed of lead oxide, along with copper, antimony, and other elements, floats to the top and solidifies above the molten lead.

The dross is removed and fed into a dross furnace for recovery of the nonlead mineral values. To enhance copper recovery, drossed lead bullion is treated by adding sulfur-bearing materials, zinc, and/or aluminum, lowering the copper content to approximately 0.01%.

During the fourth step the lead bullion is refined using pyrometallurgical methods to remove any remaining nonlead saleable materials (e.g., gold, silver, bismuth, zinc, and metal oxides such as antimony, arsenic, tin, and copper oxide). The lead is refined in a cast iron kettle over five stages. Antimony, tin, and arsenic are removed first. Then gold and silver are removed by adding zinc. Next, the lead is refined by vacuum removal of zinc. Refining continues with the addition of calcium and magnesium. These two materials combine with bismuth to form an insoluble compound that is skimmed from the kettle. In the final step caustic soda and/or nitrates may be added to the lead to remove any remaining traces of metal impurities. The refined lead will have a purity of 99.90 to 99.99%, and may be mixed with other metals to form alloys, or may be directly cast into shapes.

The processes used in the primary production of lead produce several wastestreams of concern under different regulatory scenarios. The listed RCRA hazardous wastes include smelting plant wastes that are sent to surface impoundments to settle. The impoundments are used to collect solids from miscellaneous slurries, such as acid plant blowdown, slag granulation water, and plant washings. Acid plant blowdown is generated during the production of lead in the same way it is produced at a copper plant—during the recovery of sulfur dioxide emissions. Slag granulation water is produced when hot slag from the process is sprayed with water to be cooled and granulated before transport to a slag pile. Plant washing is a housekeeping process and the washdown normally contains a substantial amount of lead and other process materials. When these materials accumulate in a surface impoundment or are dredged from the surface impoundment they are regulated as hazardous waste.

Secondary lead processing

The secondary production of lead begins with the recovery of old scrap from worn-out, damaged, or obsolete products and new scrap that is made of product wastes and smelter-refinery drosses, residues, and slags. The chief source of old scrap in the U.S. is lead-acid batteries, although cable coverings, pipe, sheet, and terne-bearing metals also serve as a source of scrap. Solder, a tin-based alloy, may also be recovered from the processing of circuit boards for use as lead charge.

Although some secondary lead is recovered directly for specialty products like babbitt metal, solder, re-melt, and copper-base alloys, about 97% of secondary lead is recovered at secondary lead smelters and refineries as either soft (unalloyed) or antimonial lead, most of which is recycled directly back into the manufacture of new batteries.1 Unlike copper and zinc, where scrap processing varies tremendously by scrap type and ultimate use, the dominance of lead battery scrap allows for a more standard secondary recovery process. Before smelting, batteries must be broken by one of several techniques and then classified into their constituent products. The modern battery-breaking process classifies the lead into metallics, oxides, and sulfate fragments, and organics into separate casing and plate separator fractions. Cleaned polypropylene case fragments are recycled back into battery cases or other products. The dilute sulfuric acid is either neutralized for disposal or is recycled into the local acid market. One of three main smelting processes is then used to reduce the lead fractions to produce lead bullion.

The majority of domestic battery scrap is processed in blast furnaces or rotary reverberatory furnaces. Used to produce a semisoft lead, a reverberatory furnace is more suitable for processing fine particles and may be operated in conjunction with a blast furnace. The reverberatory furnace is a rectangular shell lined with refractory brick, and is fired directly with oil or gas to a temperature of 1260°C. The material is heated by direct contact with combustion gases. The average furnace can process about 45 t/d. About 47% of the charge is recovered as lead product and is periodically tapped into mold or holding pots. A total of 46% of the charge is removed as slag and later processed in blast furnaces. The remaining 7% of the furnace charge escapes as dust or fume. Short (batch) or long (continuous) rotary furnaces may be used. Slags from reverberatory furnaces are processed through the blast furnace for recovery of alloying elements.

Blast furnaces produce hard lead from charges containing siliceous slag from previous runs (~4.5% of the charge), scrap iron (~4.5%), limestone (~3%), and coke (~5.5%). The remaining 82.5% of the charge comprises oxides, pot furnace refining drosses, and reverberatory slag. The proportions of rerun slags, limestone, and coke, respectively, vary to as high as 8%, 10%, and 8% of the charge.1 The processing capacity of the blast furnace ranges from 20 to 70 t/d. Similar to iron cupolas, the blast furnace is a vertical steel cylinder lined with refractory brick. Combustion air at 350 to 530 kg m2 (0.5 to 0.75 psi) is introduced through tuyeres (pipes) at the bottom of the furnace. Some of the coke combusts to melt the charge, and the remainder reduces lead oxides to elemental lead.

As the lead charge melts, limestone and iron float to the top of the molten bath and form a flux that retards oxidation of the product lead. The molten lead flows from the furnace into a holding pot at a nearly continuous rate. The product lead constitutes roughly 70% of the charge. From the holding pot, the lead is usually cast into large ingots, called pigs or sows. About 18% of the charge is recovered as slag, with ~60% of this being matte. Roughly 5% of the charge is retained for reuse, and the remaining 7% of the charge escapes as dust or fume.

Refining/casting is the use of kettle-type furnaces for remelting, alloying, refining, and oxidizing processes. Materials charged for remelting are usually lead alloy ingots that require no further processing before casting. Alloying furnaces simply melt and mix ingots of lead and alloy materials. Antimony, tin, arsenic, copper, and nickel are the most common alloying materials. Refining furnaces, as in primary lead production, are used either to remove copper and antimony to produce soft lead, or to remove arsenic, copper, and nickel for hard lead production.

Newer secondary recovery plants use lead paste desulfurization to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions and waste sludge generation during smelting. Battery paste containing lead sulfate and lead oxide is desulfurized with soda ash to produce market-grade sodium sulfate solution. The desulfurized paste is processed in a reverberatory furnace. The lead carbonate product may then be treated in a short rotary furnace. The battery grids and posts are processed separately in a rotary smelter.

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