Lithium-ion battery recycling company Aqua Metals and 6K Energy, a developer of microwave plasma technology for the production of advanced materials for energy storage and additive manufacturing powders, have announced a partnership to develop the next generation of low-carbon battery materials as well as plans to establish a long-term agreement for 6K Energy’s PlusCAM cathode material manufacturing plant.
The companies have initiated the partnership with a non-recurring engineering (NRE) agreement to develop low-carbon technology for the conversion of critical metals—first virgin and later recycled material—into battery-grade cathode active material (CAM) precursors, which are essential to 6K Energy’s advanced cathode manufacturing.
Aqua Metals is leading the development of the innovative conversion process, designed to replace chemical catalysts with clean electricity, and enables the sustainable production of cost-effective CAM precursors by eliminating embedded emissions, recurring expenses, and chemical waste byproducts.
Cathode active material is the most expensive component in a lithium battery, and it is currently manufactured almost exclusively in China. This partnership not only creates low-carbon resources for battery and electric vehicle manufacturers but also enables greater supply independence at a competitive cost and less production time than imported materials from foreign sources.
6K Energy was recently awarded a $50-million Department of Energy (DOE) grant opportunity that will partially fund the more than $200-million PlusCAM factory in Jackson, TN, scheduled to open in 2025. The conversion process already in development is based on Aqua Metals’ patented and commercially-proven AquaRefining technology, and is designed to work with both virgin materials and sustainably recycled content supplied by Aqua Metals.
As part of the strategic agreement, 6K Energy will fund the project for low carbon pCAM conversion in 2023, and the successful completion of the development project will lead to a long-term supply agreement between the two companies.
The companies plan to co-locate pCAM manufacturing with 6K Energy’s PlusCAM factory. PlusCAM will be the world’s first UniMelt plasma cathode manufacturing plant, providing low cost, ultra-sustainable production of battery material in the US, with production capacity of 13,000 tons per annum (tpa).
Aqua Metals currently operates a lithium battery recycling facility at its Li AquaRefining pilot and is developing a five-acre, 10,000tpa clean metals recycling campus nearby in the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center. Aqua Metals’ patented AquaRefining recycling technology recovers critical metals from spent lithium batteries using electricity in a closed loop, lowering emissions, and reducing landfill waste by 95% compared to current battery recycling processes.