Aqua Metals, Inc. recently held an open house at its first AquaRefinery at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center (TRIC) in McCarran, Nevada. The company says that its proprietary AquaRefining is first environmentally friendly process to recycle lead-acid batteries (LABs).
The AquaRefining technology extracts lead from LABs with a room temperature, closed-loop, water-based process that results in significant reductions of hazardous waste and direct human contact with the lead itself. The process produces lead that is as pure as—or purer than—mined lead, requiring no secondary processing.
Recycled lead has become increasingly important to LAB production, and now represents more than 50% of the lead content in new LABs. Lead—whether primary (produced directly from mined lead ore) or secondary (produced from scrap lead products which have been recycled)—conventionally is produced by smelting. Smelting is a high-temperature, endothermic chemical reduction that isolates pure lead from other metals and materials. Lead smelting—ranked as the third highest polluting industry in the world—can release toxic lead dust, smoke and slag with significant deleterious environmental and health consequences.
As a result, lead smelting has become increasingly regulated in developed countries.
AquaRefining uses an aqueous solvent and a novel electro-chemical process to produce pure lead (i.e., higher than 99.99% purity). The electro-chemical process requires less energy than the endothermic high temperature chemical reduction that is at the core of smelting.
Because the process does not generate toxic high temperature dust and gas, or the lead-containing slag and dross, there is no need for the capital- and energy-intensive processes to meet environmental compliance.
The modular nature of the solution also offers the potential to locate multiple smaller recycling facilities in areas closer to the source of used LABs, thereby reducing transport costs and supply chain bottlenecks.
Battery Systems Inc., the largest independent battery distributor in the US, has a 200,000 square foot battery distribution and collection facility adjacent to Aqua Metals’ TRIC facility. Interstate Batteries, which made a $10-million investment into Aqua Metals, has already committed to provide used LABs to recycle at the facility. Interstate Batteries controls 20% of the lead-acid battery recycling market in the United States.
Scott Miller, president and CEO of Interstate Batteries, said that his company will supply more than a million automotive and other lead-acid batteries to the AquaRefinery over the next year.
The AquaRefinery has the potential to expand recycling capacity to 160 tonnes of lead per day by 2018. Aqua Metals owns 12 acres of land in McCarran around the facility. The AquaRefinery was partially financed by a $10-million loan from Green Bank, which was 90% guaranteed by the US Department of Agriculture. The facility was also financed by a $36.2-million Nasdaq-listed initial public offering in July 2015.
Aqua Metals will operate the first AquaRefinery and plans to sell licenses to partners for AquaRefining technology and equipment, which can be co-located with battery manufacturers and distributors, as well as existing battery recycling facilities globally.