The lithium refining process was historically carried out with the use of harsh chemical processes, fossil fuel power, and high-temperature furnaces, but Aqua Metals has built an alternative recycling facility, powered by electricity, to procure precious lithium resources.
The facility is situated at the company’s Innovation Centre in Tahoe-Reno, Nevada, and is a pilot project turned operational in mid-December 2022. The system is automated, driving a lithium feedstock to separate valuable minerals to be used in lithium batteries.
“This is an unprecedented accomplishment for Aqua Metals, and for the global push toward electrification,” says Steve Cotton, President and CEO, Aqua Metals.
“We believe that Aqua Metals is the first company to take a vision beyond the laboratory, by establishing an industrial-scale, dedicated, US-based recycling facility, built to continuously produce metric tons of high-purity minerals from spent lithium-ion batteries.
“We are confident that Aqua Metals is now positioned to be the first metals recycling facility in North America to recover battery-grade lithium hydroxide from spent batteries in commercial quantities, and to initiate sales of recycled critical minerals into both metals markets and the lithium-ion battery supply chain.”
Sustainable lithium for growth in electrification
While lithium is part of a sustainable initiative itself, the company is also enabling low-emission production at its facility, using its Li AquaRefining as an electrified, closed-loop recycling solution for acquiring all metals. This includes high-purity lithium, manganese, cobalt, and nickel from batteries.
Electroplating is the key to all of it. Rather than processing the metals using harmful chemical processes or burning unsustainable fuels, the patent-pending technology limits emissions—providing capability for renewable energy usage—and lowers the cost of recycling batteries.
“I applaud our entire team for completing the successful equipment installation and working through the supply chain challenges to commence operations of this state-of-the-art recycling facility,” says Ben Taecker, Aqua Metals’ Chief Engineering and Operating Officer.
“This is a foundational step for Aqua Metals as we begin scaling to demonstration capacity and subsequent full-scale commercial operations of what we believe is the world’s cleanest and lowest-cost lithium battery recycling technology.”
Cotton also says: “With pilot operations commencing, Aqua Metals is focused on quickly advancing from the planning and validation phases to execution. We expect to initiate sales of recycled materials in the first quarter of 2023, while simultaneously advancing strategic offtake agreements to expand our revenue opportunity significantly.”
“Accordingly, we expect 2023 to be a year of commercialisation, leveraging our first-mover advantage within an industry eager for a solution to growing shortages of key battery components.”
Aqua Metals is working toward further great milestones in 2023, including targeted product specifications of high-purity metals, increasing the frequency of processing black mass, and strives to be the first business in North America to successfully recover battery-grade lithium hydroxide from spent lithium-ion batteries at a commercial level.