New Battery Recycling Plant Emits Cloud Of Confusion

Feb 12, 2016

Aerial view of the forthcoming Aqua Metals battery recycling plant in Storey County.
Credit Amy Westervelt

A California tech company hopes to demonstrate eco-friendly lead battery recycling at its new plant in the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center. But there's been plenty of confusion surrounding the new plant. Reno Public Radio's Amy Westervelt sorts it out.

Aqua Metals is tight-lipped about the specifics of its technology, but in broad terms it recycles batteries using a water-based solvent. Chief commercial officer Steven Cotton says the company's new recycling facility, currently being built in Storey County, will be "practically emission free."

However, the company's initial application for an Air Quality Operation Permit, submitted at the end of last year, indicated the plant would be a major source of air pollution.

"I nearly fell off my chair when I saw they planned to emit over a ton of lead into the air per year," says Perry Gottesfeld, executive director of nonprofit OK International, which focuses on industrial pollutants.

Aqua Metals submitted a revised application indicating much lower emissions--just 1 pound a year--a day before the public comment period on the application closed earlier this month.

Gottesfeld sees that as suspicious timing, but Aqua Metals' Steven Cotton chalks it up to bureaucracy.

"We never intended to emit anywhere near what the initial permit states," Cotton explains, "but you know you have deadlines and you have to get the permit in. So now it's revised."

The Nevada Bureau of Air Pollution Control had already announced its intention to approve the permit at the 1-ton level earlier this year. It remains to be seen whether the newly revised application will need to go through an additional review process.