Aqua Metals signs JCI as its first recycling licensee

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Aqua Metals, the inventor of a water-based lead battery recycling process, today (February 9) announced a licensing agreement with multi-industrial giant Johnson Controls, signalling a massive boost for the firm and, the firm says, the lead recycling industry as a whole.

JCI becomes Aqua Metals’ first licensee, and has bought just under 5% of the recycler for just under $11 million. This gives it an “observational” role on the board, Joe Walicki, president of Johnson Power Solutions, told BESB.

Steve Cotton, chief commercial officer for Aqua Metals, said: “JCI will supply Aqua Metals’ facility at Reno, California, with all the feed stock we could ever consume and purchase the 99.99% pure lead produced in a closed-loop network.”

Speaking to BESB on the eve of the official announcement, Cotton said the agreement meant Aqua Metals had potentially captured 40% of the lead recycling market, a $22 billion market, and that the deal was a “win, win, win”.

It’s a win for Aqua Metals, obviously, and for Johnson Controls, for many reasons, but from the Aqua Metals point of view it’s also a major win for the industry,” said Cotton. “Now the industry knows that to have a company like Johnson Controls invest in it, the rest will be in line to take advantage of Aqua Refining with a much lower sense of risk. It’s a major vote of confidence.”

Cotton said the exact terms of the licence could not be disclosed, but that the technology would be introduced into JCI’s own facilities with the technical support and know-how of Aqua Metals’ engineers.

Joe Walicki said the “blue printing” could take several months to finalize, when a clearer picture of the next steps would emerge, but the deal with Aqua Metals demonstrated the company’s commitment to clean technology.

This is something we have been exploring for a while,” Walicki told BESB. “Our focus is not only on producing better performing batteries but doing it in a way that’s right for the environment, and Aqua Metals fits with our view.

We are trying to use clean technology, always looking to improve on the standards that we already bring to the industry.”

Walicki said that the prime focus would be in North America, where the company has just announced a $450 million investment in eight AGM battery-making facilities. The company has also opened two new AGM battery-making plants in Shandong Province, China.

All this, said Cotton, meant there would be even more demand for the raw material, and really the question was how fast plants could be built to meet that demand.

It validates that lead is here to stay, and there is going to be a lot more talk at a global level about what is truly sustainable,” said Cotton. “Lead is 100% recyclable, where lithium is practically disposable. With lead there were issues with recycling but we are solving these issues — it makes economic sense, and now there’s JCI investing in the future of lead.”

Johnson Controls seems to make an announcement about a new facility or investment almost every week. “If this is a race, we are kicking it into high gear,” said Walicki. “I wouldn’t put it past us to bring something out again soon, but nothing that we are going to announce now.”