Aqua Metals (NASDAQ:AQMS) looks to a green future with lead acid battery recycling

Aqua Metals (NASDAQ:AQMS) looks to a green future with lead acid battery recycling

Lead is the most recycled material in the world. It has also contributed heavily to global pollution via the high temperature thermal reduction process involved in lead smelting, which is used for all lead acid battery (LAB) recycling. Now the California-based start-up Aqua Metals (NASDAQ:AQMS), is commercializing an electrochemical process to recycle lead that it says produces no toxic waste. 

Its AquaRefining™ recycling technology is “cleaner, more cost effective and energy efficient, and produces ultra-pure lead to modernize an important global recycling activity in a socially responsible manner,” says Aqua Metals which listed in July last year. 

At an open house held earlier this week in McCarran, Nevada at its first AquaRefinery at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center (TRIC), CEO Stephen Clarke described this refinery as “an exciting start to a cleaner future for the lead industry.”

“Lead-acid batteries are over 99 percent recyclable, but until now, there has been no way to recycle lead in an environmentally friendly fashion. With this AquaRefinery and more expected to come, Aqua Metals is doing its part to create the most sustainable battery technology the world has ever seen, while also providing economic benefits to recyclers, manufacturers and distributors,” he added.

LABs are competing with lithium-ion batteries and batteries are essential in the bid to capture intermittent power from renewable energy sources like solar and wind. The consultancy CRU recently suggested that lithium-ion batteries would drive a surge in lithium demand. 

The proprietary AquaRefining technology extracts lead from LABs with a room temperature, closed-loop, water-based process that results in vast reductions of hazardous waste and direct human contact with the lead itself, says the NASDAQ-listed business. The process produces lead “that is as pure as – or purer than – mined lead, requiring no secondary processing.” It adds. 

Battery Systems Inc. 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 committed to provide used LABs to recycle at the facility. Interstate Batteries controls 20 per cent of the lead-acid battery recycling market in the United States, says Aqua Metals.

Aqua Metals will operate the first AquaRefinery. It 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. 

“This first-ever AquaRefinery has the potential to change our industry, and our planet,” said Scott Miller, president and CEO of Interstate Batteries. 

“While we’ve been in the battery business for more than six decades, Interstate continues to seek out innovation and invest in technology for today, and tomorrow. Because Aqua Metals’ breakthrough technology is so promising, Interstate Batteries is supplying more than a million automotive and other lead-acid batteries to the AquaRefinery over the next year. We feel we’re making a smart investment in our future, and in the future of our industry,” he added.

“Upon the opening of the AquaRefinery, our batteries will be recycled close to home. As the AquaRefinery is adjacent to our location at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center, we will be able to distribute, recover and recycle our high quality lead-acid batteries without transportation waste or supply chain complexity,” said Brad Streelman, president and CEO of Battery Systems. 

By making it possible for lead recycling facilities to be close to, or even co-located with, battery manufacturers and distributors, the AquaRefining technology is “filling a significant gap in the industry,” he added. 

Yesterday Aqua Metals held its Second Quarter Earnings conference call.

Dina Medland is an independent writer, editor and commentator with a strong focus on issues around corporate governance, ethics, the workings of the boardroom and sustainable business. She is on the team of contributors to @ForbesEurope and is an ex-Financial Times staff member who has been a regular contributor in recent years. Further details about her background and a portfolio of work – including her commercially sponsored blog ‘Board Talk’ are available on her website 

Originally published on August 4, 2016