Aqua Metals, 6K plan first circular supply chain for lithium batteries in the U.S.


Lithium-ion battery recycler Aqua Metals and 6K Energy plan to create the first “truly sustainable circular supply chain” for domestic lithium-ion battery manufacturing in the U.S.

The two companies have signed a multi-part memorandum of understanding, and are planning a co-located facility at a site in Jackson, Tennessee. This facility will be the first of its kind, producing low-carbon cathode active materials for batteries, using raw materials from domestically-sourced batteries that are at the end of their life, as well as scrap materials from manufacturing partners. 

The company expects to construct the co-located facility starting in 2026, as 6K Energy ramps up their cathode manufacturing operations and demand for critical battery metals, Steve Cotton, president and CEO of Aqua Metals told pv magazine USA.  

“In the interim, we are building out our first commercial scale recycling campus in Tahoe-Reno, capable of processing 10,000 tonnes per year of battery material when at full capacity, and this facility will supply recycled materials for low-carbon cathode active material (CAM) manufacturing,” Cotton added. 

At the shared facility, Aqua Metals will transform spent batteries and manufacturing scraps into raw materials for 6K Energy’s proprietary cathode active materials manufacturing process. The former’s technology is based on using electricity to recover critical materials from end-of-life lithium-ion batteries, a process it estimates will reduce landfill waste from current battery recycling processes by 95%. 

The companies’ partnership will foster domestic job growth, technological advancement, and a sustainable footprint in the global lithium battery market, building a robust supply chain for the technologies critical to combating climate change at a lower cost than China, said Sam Trinch, group president at 6K Energy. 

The American lithium battery recycling industry is just getting started, and Aqua Metals is one of only two operational lithium battery recyclers today. But this model of meeting the growing demand for low-carbon battery materials with a modular recycling technology is highly replicable and can be scaled to fit other battery manufacturing plants, according to Cotton. There are many benefits to co-locating recycling operations right alongside other facilities in the battery supply chain, he added. 

“One of the main sources of material for recycling in the coming decade will be manufacturing scraps and out of spec batteries – and eliminating the distance these materials travel is a significant cost and emissions savings,” he said. Integrated facilities like these also offer operational efficiencies, lowering production costs and reducing carbon emissions even further, Cotton said. 

In September, battery supplier Dragonfly Energy announced it had manufactured a lithium-based battery cell using lithium hydroxide pulled by Aqua Metals from recycled batteries. The lithium hydroxide was recovered from a mixture of crushed and shredded battery cells – called “black mass” – which contains valuable raw materials, including lithium. The two companies are working on clothing the “lithium loop” in Nevada, a state that is believed to have the largest source of lithium in North America, as well as a quickly growing market for electric vehicles and energy storage systems. 


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