News published on 25.2.2019

Why restricting lead (Pb) metallurgy is a bad idea

Metal wheel without lead metallurgy ©Copyright: Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Reuter, Markus

If the use of lead was restricted, this would have severe consequences also for other raw and secondary materials. The metallurgical system would be missing one piece and the metal wheel Metal could not turn so effectively. Image: Markus Reuter

During the last few years, the use of lead (Pb) in the EU economy has been called into question by some policy makers. Lead is frequently seen as a problematic metal that can be detrimental to human health; what is much less well known is its fundamental role in the Circular Economy. To provide a firm metallurgical background on the importance of lead, Prof. Bart Blanpain (KU Leuven), Prof. Markus Reuter (TU Bergakademie Freiberg) and Dr. Annelies Malfliet (KU Leuven), active in the EU ETN SOCRATES network, have published a Policy Brief. They argue that restricting lead metallurgy in the EU would not only have a detrimental impact on the lead industry, but also on all the industries linked to it that work with elements like silver, copper, antimony, tin, tellur and zinc. In this way, future plans for energy storage, smart cities and clean technologies in the EU might be jeopardized.

SOCRATES Policy Brief 2019 Lead ©Copyright: B. Blanpain, M. Reuter & A. Malfliet

Metals are eminently recyclable, and by recycling and refining complex materials, the EU’s interconnected metals sector is responding to the increasing scarcity of certain metals. In this way, it is delivering and recovering the technology and base metals for the EU’s Circular Economy. Moreover, metals are at the heart of the energy infrastructures that now run Circular Cities, and they will play an even greater part in the future.

One of these metals is lead. With respect to this familiar metal, industry is fully aware that in order to keep on using it, the associated risks need to be well managed at all times. Importantly, lead is a key enabler in the CE, as it is capable of dissolving and carrying a multitude of technology elements. The recovery and recycling of several critical technology elements is based on refining them from lead through well-developed metallurgical processes in which the lead acts as a carrier metal.

Limiting lead metallurgy would have a detrimental impact, not only on the lead industry itself, but on all the industries linked to it. It is therefore critical that both the lead infrastructure and know-how in Europe are maintained and further developed.

Download of the Policy Brief here.


The authors are grateful to Metallo and Umicore Precious Metals Refining for giving them the opportunity to discuss and validate particular points during the writing of this policy brief.