Aqua Metals reinventing lead recycling

The AquaRefining module pictured above is one of 16 modules that will be installed by then end of summer.

The AquaRefining module pictured above is one of 16 modules that will be installed by then end of summer.

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Aqua Metals, a company based out of Alameda, Calif., is revolutionizing the way lead batteries are recycled.

Aqua Metals delivered and installed its first AquaRefining module to their newly constructed 135,000-square-foot lead recycling facility in northern Nevada’s Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center (TRIC) at the end of June. The module is one of 16 modules that will be installed in the facility by the end of summer.

“The beauty of lead is that unlike any other battery type it is 100 percent recyclable,” said Steve Cotton, chief commercial officer of Aqua Metals, said in a phone interview.

However, lead recycling is typically done though a process called smelting. Smelting is a highly toxic and highly polluting process because the batteries are being heated at high temperatures to extract the lead. Instead, Aqua Metals has designed and engineered a new technology called AquaRefining. It uses a room temperature, efficient water-based process to get almost 100 percent of the lead out of batteries in an environmentally friendly, non-hazardous, continuous process that is powered already by 40 percent renewable energy, Cotton explained.

The modules are designed to be easily manufactured and transported. It is the company’s goal to make AquaRefining the new standard method for recycling lead.

“We designed it in such a way to effectively mass produce it,” he said.

Cotton explained that there have only been a few times in history where a commodity has completely reinvented the way something is produced. Cotton compared the AquaRefining to other significant technological advances such as the Bessemer process, which created the first inexpensive process to mass produce steel in the 1850s or the Pilkington float glass method, a process created in 1950s to better manufacture glass.

“We think AquaRefining will do the same thing (for lead recycling),” Cotton said.

The company broke ground on their first lead recycling facility in Storey County back in August 2015. Miles Construction was the general contractor on the project. Aqua Metals plans to have 70 employees in the new facility working between four shifts.

According to Cotton, there is only one smelter left west of the Rocky Mountains as most have been shut down due to environmental concerns. The need for clean lead recycling on the West coast, the proximity to their headquarters in California and the ability for Storey County officials to fast track the business permitting process for their facility all made TRIC a desirable location for Aqua Metals to build their first AquaRefinery facility.

“We are really excited about the relationships we are building with Storey County and the community there,” Cotton said. “It is a business friendly environment that supports the (building and business permitting) process, which is refreshing.”

Aqua Metals received a $10 million loan guarantee from Nevada’s USDA Rural Development program in 2015 for creating jobs in the Reno-Tahoe area.

Aqua Metals was founded in 2014 and currently has about 40 employees.

In May 2016, the company announced a partnership with Interstate Batteries, the largest independent battery distribution system in North America and the country’s leading battery recycler. As part of the partnership, Interstate Batteries will invest $10 million into Aqua Metals and will supply batteries for Aqua Metals to recycle in their TRIC plant.

Cotton said that the lead recycling facility in TRIC is the first of many for the company and they are currently evaluating the best location for their next facility. They also anticipate that they will double their capacity within the TRIC building by 2018.

The company will be hosting a private ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday, July 28 to celebrate the commencement of operations. They have a job board on the Aqua Metals website which is updated regularly with new jobs within the company.

For more information about Aqua Metals, visit


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