There's another new factory at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center. Today (Thursday) was opening day for a high-tech recycling facility. In a burgeoning neighborhood full of new names and new products, is Aqua Metals. Will McDade of Interstate Batteries calls it the world's first non-polluting lead recycling facility. "We're very excited, and it’s a promising new technology."
Aqua Metals broke ground at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center almost one year ago today. The 138,000 square foot building was built near the Tire Rack warehouse, and a two minute drive from the Tesla plant. Aqua Metals is based in Alameda, California, but here is where they installed their first working prototypes. Their business is a new way lead batteries are recycled. The company’s Steve Cotton told us, "It’s one of those few times that the way a commodity is created, is reinvented." McDade agreed: "It’s much different from the other processes."
The company recycles the lead that you find in almost every battery, including the one in your car, in a different way. Recycling lead involves intense heating in dirty smelters. This company has a new process they call, Aqua Refining, and they're doing it here. Cotton showed off the modular units that do most of the work: "These units are effectively recycling the lead and creating a new fresh lead at a molecular level."
Interstate Batteries has already signed on. You know the old battery you left at the store when they installed your new one? Millions will come here to be recycled. "We’ll send in 40 million pounds of batteries, initially, to this facility per year." First stop, the floor where batteries will be torn apart, the plastic recycled. Then the lead taken out in their own units that were made in California. McDade told us, "The smelting ovens are expensive to run, as you can imagine. And so the room temperature, low electricity process that Aqua Metals has does provide some cost benefit."
How much water does this require? Aqua Metal’s Steve Cotton says, "Very little in terms of water demand from this facility, because we get the battery acid, which is 80% based out of water." Cotton says this is the future. Ninety-six percent of all batteries have lead, and because of environmental rules, it's hard to open a smelter doing it the old way. Eventually, he expects their unusual recycle boxes to be all over the country: "Our intention is to build, own and operate this plant to demonstrate to the world that Aqua Refining works and works well at a commercial level."
What's it mean for you? This company is hiring, and eventually will have 70 employees here, working four different shifts. They say they'll hire Nevadans. Cotton told us, "The percentage of workers local will basically be 100% that come in here to report every day."
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