Letter Re: Lead From Car Batteries–Can it Be Recycled Into Cast Bullets?

In relation to the question about casting bullets from battery lead: There are a few things you need to keep in mind when dealing with things like old batteries and such. The first is, when lead-acid cells are drained, the metallic lead is converted into lead sulfate. So the ideal battery to use for this is one which is fully charged. I suppose it is technically possible for you to take an uncharged battery, and cook the plates down with a dry base such as sodium hydroxide (mineral wood ash–pour water through wood ashes, remove solids will give you some hydroxide salts KOH/NaOH) and then you are likely to get anything not reduced off as dross.
The other issue is, most batteries have some pretty strange alloy compositions. In many cases antimony, calcium, and strontium are added to the lead to improve it’s structural qualities. While antimony is a good thing, the calcium and strontium do not lend the alloy very desirable casting qualities. Which means your only choice is to try to burn these out. Thankfully both bond rather strongly with chlorine, so if you have a way of producing chlorine gas (electrolysis of salt brine, chlorine gas etc) it is possible to remove these impurities.
Then you have to add something back to the lead (usually tin) that will allow it to whet properly. If you look around, you can find hard lead shot, which often has up to 15% antimony, and occasionally 5-10% tin. If you are careful about weighing your starting materials you could come up with alloys which have the right characteristics for use in this.
As you mentioned, the wheel weights are a good source. At present I cast bullets commercially using wheel weight lead as my starting alloy (to which I add a proprietary number of components to make everything come out the way I want it). The problem is, I don’t think I have enough time in the day to run around and collect the wheel weights from every vehicle I can see. The batteries are a much better source, but are likely out of reach for the amateur.
However, there is much more lead in a car than just the wheel weights. The radiators of most vehicles are full of lead. This is usually a 60/40 lead/tin alloy which is great for creating alloys with any wheel weights you are trying to get to turn out better. In most cases radiators can contain up to a pound, if not more, of lead.
Lead is a very common material. It is resistant to most corrosion, and is used in a wide variety of applications from radiation shielding to pipes in chemical plants, and lets not forget stained glass windows. (But then, I suppose if you’re really hurting for raw materials, perhaps looting the church of the cames might be forgivable.)
If you are truly interested in a source of “after the crash” raw material supplies, look to see what is around you, there may be a harbor, or ship refitter nearby who uses lead for ballast in ships or sailboats, who may trade with you for a more usable product (ammo). Or it may just be abandoned. Lead, copper, and iron are sure to be the most important materials after a serious crash, either because they last in a metallic state, or because we made so much of it, that there is almost no way for it to return to it’s natural state (an ore, oxide, sulfate etc). While aluminum is a commonly
recyclable material, it is difficult to produce without a lot of electrical energy, and the conveniences of gas powered mining equipment.
By far the best solution is to stock up now. I currently have a number of tire shops I have existing agreements with as far as lead [scrap wheel weight] collection. I regularly collect more scrapwheel weights than I need to meet my operating requirements. For the most part, I melt it down with the rest, ingot it out, and stuff it somewhere until ready for use.One true advantage of lead
is that it won’t rot if I bury it. And if you cast big enough ingots no one is going to want to steal them 😉 . The largest single ingot I cast was about 500lbs, it was 21″x21″x~20″ Might have been a touch bigger. I still haven’t figured out what I’m going to do with it, but I do know that I could leave it in any bad neighborhood and no one is going to be successful stealing it. Best of luck to you all. Sincerely, – AVL