Battery recycler completes pilot, moves to production

Aqua Metals, Inc. has completed its Li AquaRefining recycling pilot, and is operating five days a week to produce saleable quantities of sustainably recycled battery materials. 

The company completed the pilot facility in Reno, Nevada, to recover both cobalt and manganese dioxide. This adds to the metals (including high-purity lithium hydroxide, nickel, and copper) the company reclaims from spent lithium batteries using its patented AquaRefining technology.

Aqua Metals believes this advance makes it the first fully operational lithium battery recycler using advanced electro-hydrometallurgy – replacing polluting furnaces and intensive chemicals typical of recycling with electricity to separate the critical metals from spent lithium batteries. 

“Completing commissioning and moving into 24/5 operations at our Li AquaRefining Pilot is a tremendous milestone for Aqua Metals and represents the future of sustainable lithium battery recycling in the US and beyond,” said Ben Taecker, chief engineering and operations officer at Aqua Metals.

“Not only are we demonstrating the scalability of our solution, but also our significant advantages in recovery rates, emissions reductions, and worker safety compared to current battery recycling facilities.” 

The company completed the pilot – from finalized design through to operations – in roughly eight months, and with a transition to 24-hour operations is scaling the pilot facility to a capacity of 75 tons per annum (tpa) of processed black mass input.

It is also developing its first commercial-scale facility, which was initiated earlier this year. The first phase of Aqua Metals’ recycling campus will be designed to process 3,000tpa black mass, for which the company has secured both sufficient supply of black mass to reach scale and is in the process of finalizing offtake agreements for the recycled materials.

The company expects that at current metals prices and projected processing costs at scale, that its Phase 1 recycling facility should generate positive cash flow. 

Aqua Metals intends to sell the high-purity and battery-grade materials produced at the pilot to metals buyers and start generating initial revenue from recycled metals in the third quarter. The company will also continue distributing its high-purity production samples to existing and potential customers in battery and cathode manufacturing, advancing ongoing partnership and long term off-taker discussions. 

“As previously guided, the successful execution of our rapid scaling strategy is a testament to the innovation and adaptability of our entire engineering and operations team,” said Steve Cotton, president and CEO of Aqua Metals.

“The lessons learned from our pilot and improvements in our modular solution reaffirm our confidence in our commercialization strategy. We have secured more than 3,000 tons of black mass to fuel our operations, enough supply to reach commercial scale in 2024. Aqua Metals intends to capitalize on its first-mover advantage, driving US leadership in sustainable battery recycling, and building a robust domestic supply chain for the critical minerals that cleanly power an electrified future.” 

Earlier this year, Aqua Metals announced its vision for development of a five-acre clean metals recycling campus, located in Tahoe-Reno, with space for more than 10,000tpa of total capacity once completed. The company is planning for a phased development of the campus, beginning with the already commenced redevelopment of an existing building on site into the first commercial-scale Li AquaRefinery, targeting 3,000tpa capacity.