In a deal that will allow Johnson Controls to expand its automotive batteries production without carbon emissions and excess waste, Johnson Controls has invested in Aqua Metals, a company that uses a water-based process to recycle 99 percent of the lead from used lead-acid batteries.
Johnson Controls is the world’s largest automotive battery manufacturer. It supplies 146 million batteries a year to auto makers and to replacement-battery sellers Interstate Batteries and retailers such as Costco, Walmart and AutoZone.
Under the deal, Johnson Controls will acquire just under 5 percent of Aqua Metals outstanding shares. The company told the Wall Street Journal that its stake in Aqua Metals is worth about $11 million.
“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.
The agreement also makes Johnson Controls the first licensee for Aqua Metal’s technology, which will enable it to extract lead from used car batteries. It will supply Aqua Metals with batteries to recycle, as part of the Johnson Controls closed-loop network, and purchase metals produced from the recycler’s facilities.
In a statement, Dr. Stephen Clarke, chairman and CEO of Aqua Metals, said the partnership will “enable clean and efficient battery recycling around the world.”
Johnson Controls told the Wall Street Journal that the US replacement battery market grew 8 percent over the past year. It expects to spend $50 million this year to increase production capacity for conventional batteries by 10 million units annually at eight US plants.
Instead of smelting, the most common way to recycle lead, Aqua Metal uses an electrochemical process. The room temperature, water-based recycling method produces ingots of ultrapure lead. Because it uses a water-based process, it eliminates virtually all of the toxic waste issues generated by smelting and is safe for the environment, the company says.
Last year Aqua Metals signed an agreement with Interstate Batteries under which the automotive battery distributor sends more than 1 million automotive and other lead-acid batteries to be recycled at Aqua Metals’ AquaRefineries. Interstate Batteries also invested about $10 million into Aqua Metals.