An incredible 88% of the world’s steel will end up being recycled, but there’s an abundance of other items, like batteries, that aren’t recycled nearly as often as they should be. Johnson Controls, a company that produces automotive batteries, and Aqua Metals, a company that uses a unique recycling process to help recycle said batteries, have just signed a partnership to finally find a solution to that problem.
The agreement between the two companies outlines an electrochemical battery recycling program that will span North America, China, and Europe. Aqua Metals already utilizes a water-based process to recycle almost 99% of the lead from used lead batteries, and once partnered with Johnson Controls, the company could seriously expand and improve their technology.
Dr. Stephen Clarke, chairman and CEO of Aqua Metals, said in a statement that the partnership will “enable clean and efficient battery recycling around the world.”
Johnson Controls is currently the world’s largest automotive battery manufacturer, providing upwards of 146 million batteries to automobile manufacturers annually. The company also supplies retailers such as Costco, Walmart, and AutoZone. Safe to say their reach combined with Aqua Metals’ technology could change the face of battery recycling forever.
Rather than smelt, as many other companies do, Aqua Metals uses an electrochemical process to recycle lead. The process, because it’s water-based, eliminates almost all of the toxic waste problems such as gas and harmful emissions that smelting currently generates.
Things like natural gas and propane, which is a gas at temperatures above –44 degrees Fahrenheit, are difficult to recapture once released into the atmosphere, but technology now allows batteries to be recycled at a much higher rate than before. It’s particularly relevant for automobile batteries, which are also evolving technologically.
In fact, Tesla has just obtained a new patent for automobile batteries that would allow their electric cars to charge faster and to hold that charge for a much longer period of time. The metal-air (lithium-ion) battery has been in development since around 2010, but no serious advances were made until recently when the patent was finally acquired.
A metal-air battery functions in much the same way that any other battery would, but will use oxygen as the cathode. This allows for a cell that is much lighter, which will lead to higher energy density and therefore a longer range. This is just another part of Tesla’s zero-emissions initiative, and one that could change the way batteries are made.
That’s not the only benefit of a lighter battery. In recent years, the auto industry has been attempting to lightweight their vehicles in any way possible, from lighter, thinner carpets to ditching the spare tire. While it’s possible to purchase custom car carpet for your vehicle dating back to the mid-1940s, most new cars now come with lightweight composite materials.
For now, traditional batteries are still being used. Until the technology is ready, it’s important that companies like Johnson Controls and Aqua Metals continue their recycling efforts.
“It’s a technology that really aligns well with our growth strategy and the way we want to produce batteries in an environmentally friendly way,” said Joe Walicki, president of Johnson Controls Power Solutions.