Only one smelter still exists on the West Coast, after the closure of an Exide Technologies plant in Los Angeles County that for decades released dangerous levels of lead and arsenic into the air. Exide agreed last year to permanently close the facility and clean up the surrounding area to avoid criminal prosecution.Aqua Metals, an East Bay company, has found a better way:
The AquaRefinery will...place the batteries on a conveyer belt that climbs two stories. At the top of the belt, a hammer mill will smash them to bits, sending the pieces through a series of machines that separate the lead from the batteries’ plastic components. The plastic will be gathered and recycled.What could have been a California plant with breakthrough technology was built east of Reno, Nevada:
The facility’s heart is a collection of enclosed plastic bins, each shaped like a small house with a peaked roof. A liquid solution containing lead from the batteries will be pumped into the bins, which use a current of electricity and slowly spinning blades to precipitate the lead from the liquid, separating the lead from impurities.
The separated lead, which looks a bit like metallic brownie batter, will slide down a chute from each bin and travel down a conveyor belt to a hydraulic press, which will stamp the lead into discs. The discs will then be melted in large kettles and poured into molds to create 22 inch-long lead ingots, also known as pigs. Those ingots, [COO Selwyn] Mould said, will be nearly pure lead and will be sold.
While the process relies heavily on water, the AquaRefinery is designed to recapture and reuse as much as possible. Sulfuric acid from the batteries, for example, is separated into water and sulfate, with the latter converted into sodium sulfate crystals that can be sold for use in detergents. Depending on the composition of the batteries processed on any given day, the facility may even end up with excess water, Mould said.
Nevada officials made clear to Aqua that they wanted the facility.In the Bay Area, home to tech companies whose combined market caps total in the $trillions, the party rumbles on. As talent continues to exit California for the greener pastures of lower taxes and lower regulation, and as companies--even those who may be sympathetic to the principles of the dominant political philosophy--expand in other states and other countries, the music will stop eventually and then we'll look around and ask what happened.
“When we came up to Nevada, they said, ‘How can we help?’” Mould said. “In California, you put in your permit application, and six months later, someone tells you you filled out line 26 wrong.”
Below, the AquaRefinery by drone: