Lead Production (Litharge, Refined Lead, Red Lead & Grey Lead)
Lead is a soft and malleable metal belonging to the carbon group. It is the heaviest non-radioactive element which occurs naturally on earth in the form of four isotopes: lead-208, 207, 206, and 204. It is generally found in ores with copper, silver and zinc and is extracted together with these metals. Lead compounds exist in two main oxidation states: +4 and +2. It is widely used in construction activities, production of weights, lead-acid batteries, and as a radiation shield. Conventional lead-acid batteries have a significant history in providing energy storage for a wide range of end-use applications, in mobile as well as stationary applications.
Usually, lead is found in conjunction with other metals such as silver and zinc and is mined as a by-product. The ore is first mined post which it is concentrated, smelted and refined in a blast furnace with limestone and coke to remove and recover the other metals.
The lead metal is primarily extracted from sulphide ore i.e. galena, which has the 86.6% lead content. Two other minerals commercially mined for lead are cerussite and anglesite. Over 95% of all lead mined is derived from one of these three minerals.
The principal usage of lead is for the manufacturing of lead-acid batteries which is used for both automotive and industrial applications. Lead is also used in remote access power systems, load levelling systems, in compounds in the glass and plastics industries and radiation shielding. Lead is a metal which effectively resists corrosive effects of atmospheric gases and acidic substances and it is, therefore, largely used for coating iron-sheets, sheathing cables, lining acid tanks etc.
Batteries (74%): The single largest use of lead is in the manufacture of batteries (74%), which can be sub-divided into SLI (Starting-Lighting-Ignition) batteries (50%) and Industrial Batteries (24%). Demand for both, SLI batteries and Industrial batteries can be further split into demand from new sales and replacement demand. In addition to this, lead acid batteries are used in many other applications where they may provide main or auxiliary power.
SLI Batteries: Lead is the primary ingredient used for manufacturing automotive batteries. These batteries are mainly used in cars and light vehicles, but are also found in other applications such as golf carts and boats. For SLI batteries segment, replacement demand outstrips the demand from the original equipment manufacturers (OEM’s) in a ratio of about 3:1. A standard lead acid battery for starting, lighting and ignition of vehicles has the following average composition by weight: Lead metal: 34%; Lead oxide paste: 39%, Electrolyte (free sulphuric acid):11-12% others (ebonite, PVC, paper, etc.): 8-10%, polypropylene 5-6%
Lead is used for cable sheathing especially for electrical cables and telecom cables due to its corrosion resistance, water imperviousness and ductility properties. Lead is also used for sheathing of cables which are used in the petrochemical industry, under sea and underground high voltage cables. Though, aluminium or stainless steel sheaths can be used for underground cables, there is no substitute for under-sea cables, as stainless steel or aluminium do not have the same resistance to corrosion by salt water as lead. Similarly, lead exhibits corrosion resistance by oils and hence is used in underground cables by the petrochemical industry as well.
In India, lead mines are mainly concentrated in the state of Rajasthan. The lead industry in India is poised to perform well on the back of good demand prospects. India is Asia's largest lead consuming market after China where growth is largely dependent on the demand from the automotive sector and the industrial sector. India has the second largest number of mobile subscribers in the world after China, and is currently ranked 5th in global vehicle production. India's growing telecom industry and on-going infrastructure development has boosted the industrial battery demand, as is the case with an expanding photovoltaic market which is planned to reach 227 GW by 2022.
Growth of the building construction industry is anticipated to be one of the major factors driving the demand for lead over the next few years. Lead is widely used in the construction industry as architectural metals for roofing materials, gutters and gutter joints, and on roof parapets. Moreover, increasing demand for lead-acid batteries for automotive application on account of rising automobile industry is expected to contribute to the growth of the market.
However, growing health concerns regarding the use of lead paints is expected to slow down the growth of the market. North America was the largest consumer for lead owing to its vast construction and automobile industry. The demand in Europe is expected to rise moderately on account of declining automobile sales. However, future market growth is expected to be from Asia Pacific on account of rising demand for energy in smart grid technology which includes electrical vehicles operated on lead batteries.
This factor is further expected to provide new opportunities for the growth of the market. Development of absorbed glass mat (AGM) lead acid batteries on account of their favorable characteristic of being maintenance-free are also expected to provide growth opportunities for the lead market.
The global mine production of lead amounted to 4,703 KT, of which China (2,400 KT), followed by Australia (313 KT) accounted for 51% and 9.6% of the production respectively. Other nations which contributed to the global mine production of lead were USA (6.7%), Peru (6.4%), Russia (5.3%), and Mexico (4.9%). India accounted for 3.2% of the global mine production during CY17.
Global refined lead production in CY17 increased by 2.6% to 11,451 KT, and metal consumption increased by 4.2% to 11,594 KT, resulting in a production to consumption deficit of about 143 KT of refined lead. There was an increase in production of refined lead in Europe, Canada, China, India and Kazakhstan while the production was significantly lower in the United States, Australia and the Republic of Korea.
The increase in overall global usage was influenced by a 3.1% rise in demand from China. Refined lead usage also increased in Japan, the Republic of Korea and the United States. In the European region, demand was 3.5% higher due to the increase in usage in Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland and the UK
Lead demand in the global markets is driven by its usage in batteries (80%), rolled and extruded products (6%), pigments and compounds (5%), ammunition (3%), alloys (2%), cable sheathing (1%) and miscellaneous other applications (3%).
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