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AquaRefining process for Lithium-ion battery material recovery using electro-hydrometallurgy

Aqua Metals, a Nevada, US-based company working on lithium-ion battery recycling, has announced the recovery of high-purity lithium hydroxide from lithium-ion battery black mass at its recycling facility located at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center (TRIC).

Aqua Metals plans to produce battery-grade lithium hydroxide directly from the black mass through its regenerative electro-hydrometallurgy process, primarily using electricity and without the polluting furnaces or intensive chemical processes typical of recycling.

In this interaction with Steve Cotton – President and CEO at Aqua Metals, we intend to understand more about their proprietary recovery process.

What is the AquaRefining process for material recovery?

Li AquaRefining™ is an electro-hydrometallurgy process. After mixing ‘black mass’ into a solution, Aqua Metals uses a patent-pending technology based on electroplating to recover high-purity critical battery minerals. 

What materials are possible to recover using the AquaRefining process as of today?

Li AquaRefining technology is a low-emissions, closed-loop recycling solution capable of recovering all valuable metals, including high-purity lithium hydroxide, cobalt, nickel, copper, and manganese dioxide, from spent lithium batteries. 

Aqua Metals recovers pure metals instead of salts, alloys or intermediaries requiring further processing. This also provides greater flexibility, as high-purity metals are essential in multiple industries and low-carbon feedstocks increasingly important.

Lithium hydroxide is particularly notable and unique to Aqua Metals. LiHO is very valuable and is the preferred feedstock for high-performance battery manufacturing, powering more efficient, longer-lasting energy storage systems. 

How is the AquaRefining process different from other popular processes based on hydrometallurgy and pyrometallurgy in terms of resource consumption and efficiency delivered?

In contrast to standard hydro and pyro, Li AquaRefining utilizes electroplating powered by electricity to recover metals instead of intensive chemical processes or polluting furnaces. The patent-pending Li AquaRefining enables low-cost and efficient production of high-purity products – drastically lowering emissions and limiting waste streams – and is designed to reduce capital and operating costs significantly.

Li AquaRefining is a low-temperature, closed-loop process that regenerates the chemicals used, eliminating the need for a constant supply of one-time-use chemicals in typical hydro recycling. Not only are these chemicals expensive, but their embedded carbon emissions and resulting chemical waste present a significant challenge.

A detailed breakdown of the difference between processes based on Argonne’s EverBatt, including CO2 emissions and sodium sulfate waste streams, can be found here.

What is the TRL of the process?

Aqua Metals is moving into the deployment phase of technology readiness, currently transitioning from TRL 6-7. We are demonstrating key steps at our Pilot and moving to full operational status in 2023.

What kind of recovery % can you get from AquaRefining?

Li AquaRefining has shown very high recovery rates in our initial bench scale demonstrations. The company will share data on recovery rates at our Pilot as we reach full throughput capacity.

What parts of Li-ion battery recycling does Aqua Metals deal with? Are you sourcing black mass from other companies or taking care of shredding etc., also in-house?

Aqua Metals sources black mass from different providers, focused on working with companies that do not ‘roast’ the batteries, instead using electricity-powered crushers to lower embedded emissions. 

What is the current scale of your operations and your near-term plans?

Aqua Metals is 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.

Commencing operations of our state-of-the-art recycling facility was 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. 

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