Doe Run Announces Revolutionary New Lead Processing Technology

The new process replaces traditional, high-temperature lead smelting with a wet chemical process that is safer, cleaner and more efficient. Its application is expected to transform the global lead industry, which plays a vital role in providing backup power for hospitals, cellular and computer networks, startup and motive power for electric vehicles and protective shielding for medical and military uses. Lead is also important for alternative energy storage in hybrid vehicles and storage for wind power and solar energy.

"This new proprietary technology is a game changer for our industry," said Bruce Neil, Doe Run’s president and chief executive officer. "This new technology delivers on shared goals for cleaner communities, energy independence and lead products that will power our world into the future."

Working with its technology partner, Engitec, an Italian-based company, Doe Run’s proprietary new technology uses a wet chemical process to selectively dissolve lead concentrates into solution, then extracts lead from the solution using an electric current. The "electrowinning" process is similar to the technology used to extract zinc from concentrates, but has never been used in primary lead production. As a self-contained process, the activating solution is recycled back into the process indefinitely.

"We are committed to operating a sustainable business that meets the needs of our customers and is responsible to our communities," said Neil. "We’ve been looking for a breakthrough technology for decades and have invested more than 200,000 man hours to get us this far. By year’s end, we will have invested more than $30 million in research and development."

"We still have a way to go, but we’re convinced this technology has tremendous potential to produce a strategic metal in a manner that is environmentally sound in every respect," added Neil.

"Given the recycling rate of more than 97 percent, lead is already an environmental success story," said Bob Flicker, chief operating officer and executive vice president for battery manufacturer, East Penn Manufacturing Co. "When Doe Run began testing the new technology, we recognized its huge potential. At its very core, lead keeps the world moving through batteries that deliver dependable energy storage. Advanced lead-acid batteries, such as the UltraBattery, will broaden the use of lead for hybrid electric vehicles, as well as renewable energy storage and frequency regulation for smart grid technology."

"Having a secure domestic supply for lead better ensures that our U.S.-based manufacturing facilities are cost competitive and support new and existing jobs in the United States," Flicker added. "We’re eager to support Doe Run’s dramatic progress toward cleaner lead processing technology."

In addition to improved environmental performance, Doe Run’s new technology provides several economic benefits to both state and federal economies. The technology is expected to extend the economic life of U.S. lead mines by providing a higher rate of metal recovery. Further, because Missouri is home to a world-class mining district, the new technology helps the domestic lead industry continue to flourish and reduces dependence on foreign sources.

"Doe Run intends to keep the United States at the center of the global lead industry," said Neil. "We believe this technology will set a new standard for sustainable lead production around the world, even as we face increased competition from China, India and other emerging economies. The new technology was developed with an eye toward our common goals of efficiency, environmental stewardship and cleaner communities. We’re ready to take a leadership role in transforming the lead industry."

Doe Run is currently running a demonstration plant in southeast Missouri, completing a detailed feasibility study on the new technology and evaluating possible locations for a commercial-scale plant.

To take the project from a demonstration plant to a commercial-sized operation, the new technology is expected to require investments of more than $150 million. Doe Run is actively pursuing funding and loan guarantees to help bring the new technology to fruition.

Based in St. Louis, The Doe Run Company is a privately held natural resources company and the largest integrated lead producer in the Western Hemisphere. Dedicated to environmentally responsible mineral and metal production, Doe Run operates one of the world’s largest, single-site lead recycling facilities, located in Boss, Mo. The Doe Run Company and its subsidiaries deliver products and services necessary to provide power, protection and convenience. Doe Run has operations in Missouri, Washington and Arizona. 

Engitec Technologies SpA is an engineering and contracting company, founded on a wide and long experience acquired in its 70-plus years as Technical Department of a primary international Industrial Group active in the non-ferrous metals production.

East Penn Manufacturing Co., Inc. is a leading manufacturer of high quality lead-acid batteries and accessories for the automotive, telecommunications, UPS, commercial, marine, and motive power markets. The company’s quality and environmental systems for its entire 520-acre complex have been certified to ISO 9001:2000, ISO/TS 16949:2002, and ISO 14001:2004 requirements.