Investor call details mixed progress of Aqua Metals but positive on JCI relationship

Progress on setting up Aqua Metals first battery recycling plant in Reno, Nevada continues, according to to chairman and CEO Stephen Clarke (pictured) in an investors’ call on November 9.

However the 80,000 tonnes a day that in January 2016 Aqua Metals announced it was intending to produce by early 2017 have failed to materialize.

Aqua Metals has developed a recycling process for lead acid batteries that does not require smelting to extract the lead but uses a process similar to electrowinning. This has the potential to revolutionize the lead recycling industry.

Clarke refused to be drawn on the key question of the actual throughput of the plant — probably the best indication of how advanced the firm was — but was prepared to talk about the progress of the installation equipment and give some details of its further licensing relationship with Johnson Controls.

“We’re not providing individual tonnage per day, utilization rates or any of that data,” he said. “What we are saying is that we’ve got 16 modules on site. We’ve got eight fully assembled. We’ve achieved that. We’ve put four on site and assembled them in less than a month, it was a tremendous effort and I’m confident we’ll have all 16 assembled by the end of the year.”

Bhakti Pavani, senior research analyst at Euro Pacific Capital, asked about any modifications that might be needed for producing lead ingots — to which Clarke replied that the issues faced and resolved with the battery breaker had been “quite unexpected” but were resolved, and that the 16 existing modules were being ramped up.

However he would not be drawn on the utilization rate of the four modules that Aqua Metals says are up and running.

Lead battery recycler Aqua Metals announced securing the licensing agreement with Johnson Controls in February 2017.

It later confirmed that preparations had begun to install the technology, and in September external communications director Kari Phisterer, Power Solutions, JCI, told BESB: “Our intentions with this agreement remain the same as originally announced, which is to invest in clean technologies, such as AquaMetals, building on our commitment to create a more sustainable and environmentally responsible industry.”

“It’s difficult for us to provide some of the level of detail that all of our investors want around exactly where are we with JCI, what’s going to be the first facility, how big is it going to be and how many more are we going to do,” Clarke told the investors’ conference call.

“Quite honestly, we’re not going to be able to provide the level of granularity that people want because we’re talking about highly commercially sensitive matters that neither we or JCI particularly want all of our competitors to know about.”

He added that the firm was “thrilled” with the relationship with JCI. “We’re somewhat overwhelmed by the scale and scope of what we could do in rolling out and providing equipment to them. That process has started. It will include engineering and other services as well as providing just AquaRefining modules. But in terms of providing capital to the company, it certainly adds another dimension.”

When asked again by HC Wainwright managing director Amit Dayal about the progress Aqua Metals had made with JCI, Clarke said: “We’re not going to provide specifics, but I can give you an anecdote. Just a few short weeks ago, we were at the facility standing next to an early prototype of a method for dealing with the sticky lead with a very senior delegation from JCI, who were very pleased with what we were doing and very complimentary in what we’d achieved.

“And we’re thrilled to have them as partners, and I really can’t say much more than that.”