Looking Ahead to Lithium Recycling: Applying AquaRefining Technology for Lithium-Ion Batteries



KEY POINTS
  • The demand for lithium-ion battery materials is expected to increase by ~575% in the coming decade, driven by the rapidly growing adoption of EVs and increasing consumer electronic consumption. Unfortunately, this will likely also lead to creating an environmental time bomb without metal recycling processes in place.
  • In 2019 according to Circular Energy Storage, there were ~180,000 tons of lithium-ion batteries available for recycling, and of that, about 97,000 tons were recycled. Of this, 67,000 tons were processed in China.
  • By 2030, ~15 million tons of lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) are expected to reach the end of life. Currently, only ~7.0% of the LIBs undergo recycling compared to over 99.0% (by weight) of lead-acid batteries globally. As a result, most of the dead / waste LIBs end up in landfills or containers.
  • This presents an excellent opportunity for a company like Aqua Metals, which acts as an enabler for the recycling industry by providing proven technology. The addressable market for lead and lithium recycling stands at $11.4 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach $26 billion by 2030.
  • Aqua Metals offers patented hydrometallurgical AquaRefiningTM technology, a room temperature, water-based, non-polluting method using an electroplating process building lead one atom at a time and producing some of the purest lead in the world (99.996% pure). Aqua Metals is expanding the technology to lithium-ion battery recycling, producing other high-value metals like nickel, cobalt, and manganese. It is the only company that has IP for clean lead battery recycling. In total, the company has 71 issued patents and 44 pending patent applications.
  • LIB recycling using the AquaRefiningTM technology is different from other processes because it uses a closed-loop process that does not require any furnace (fossil fuels) and recycles chemicals and water used. As a result, the process does not emit harmful greenhouse gases and yields higher quality metal recovery at lower operating costs.
  • The method not only offers cost efficiency and higher metal yields, but it also offers a modular plant design requiring smaller real estate footprints enabling smooth, flexible, and streamlined installation. In addition, the AquaRefining process also yields metals like nickel, cobalt, and manganese in a highly pure form increasing revenue opportunities for recycling companies.
OUR INSIGHTS

The Opportunities

The markets for lead and lithium are proliferating, fueled by energy storage applications in automobiles, data centers, and renewables. Aqua Metals is well-positioned to take advantage of this growth through its proprietary AquaRefining technology. In addition, prospective licensees will be looking for cost-effective solutions that improve the purity of their recycled metals while also cutting emissions as they face higher regulatory burdens and strive to meet aggressive ESG and net-zero targets. Aqua Metals is poised to capitalize on this trend as its AquaRefining technology provides a fundamentally non-polluting and modular solution that improves the environmental impact of lead recycling, decreases regulatory burdens, and scales recycling production to meet the growing demand for high-purity metals.

The Obstacles

Aqua Metals’ novel AquaRefining technology, although proven on a commercial demonstration scale, has not yet been licensed to third-party commercial operations. Therefore, it will be critical for Aqua Metals to secure revenue-generating equipment supply and licensing agreements and to successfully execute against those agreements by enabling its licensees to produce high-purity AquaRefined lead at scale.

The demand for lithium-ion battery materials is expected to increase by ~575% in the coming decade, driven by the rapidly growing adoption of EVs and increasing consumer electronic consumption. Unfortunately, this will likely also lead to creating an environmental time bomb without metal recycling processes in place.

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