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Aqua Metals admits ‘significant’ delay as losses mount

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 13:05 -- John Shepherd
Aqua Metals admits ‘significant’ delay as losses mount

The head of US lead-acid battery recycling start-up Aqua Metals has admitted the firm is “significantly behind schedule” in its production plans.

Chairman and CEO Dr Stephen Clarke (pictured) said earlier this year that Aqua Metals, which wants to commercialise a water-based recycling process, was preparing for “explosive growth” in 2018.

But as the company posted further losses for the third quarter of 2017, Clarke has told analysts “limited production of AquaRefined lead is under way” and is expected to continue with “initial quantities” produced this year.

Clarke declined to give details on tonnage or utilisation rates of an initial four AquaRefining modules now in operation to produce small quantities of lead and to evaluate operating parameters.

He also declined to give “specifics” when asked if Johnson Controls (JCI)— which has a 5% stake in Aqua Metals— was showing “flexibility and patience” in terms of progress.

Clarke said he expected the start-up would face “more hurdles”, which he said was “common for every first-of-a-kind facility”— and revealed he is on the lookout for additional potential partners “that would support the expansion of our own production capacity and potentially the rollout of equipment to third parties”.

Clarke was speaking after Aqua Metals reported a further net loss of $6.3 million for the third quarter of 2017, or $0.31 per diluted share, compared to a net loss of $3.5m ($0.23 per diluted share) in the same period a year ago.

Clarke said: “We've made an exceptional start with our agreements with JCI. To have a partner of such scale and credibility as our launch customer is far beyond our expectations. To be able to fully realise the potential of that relationship, we believe that there is scope for additional strategic partners to help provide equipment and services.”

“I've previously stated that we expect to have all 16 modules assembled and operational by the end of 2017. Well, (as of 9 November), all 16 modules have been delivered, are on-site and in place. Eight of those are fully assembled and the final eight modules are in place and undergoing final assembly.”

“We have achieved very significant improvements in the liability and throughput over the past few months, and the battery breaker is now running consistently seven days a week,” Clarke said.

“The next step in our process is desulfurisation and digestion. This is where we've implemented our proprietary electrolyte production process. We believe that it is within desulfurisation and digestion that we've solved the critical challenges that many others could not overcome in attempting to develop and commercialise electrochemical-based lead acid battery recycling.”

Clarke said plating lead from an electrolyte “is not particularly difficult… producing the electrolyte from the components of a lead-acid battery is where the challenge lies”.

Aqua Metals’ stock fell to as low as $3.45 on 14 November after opening at $3.68. By the closing bell, the firm’s stock was at $3.58 a share for a loss of 3.5%.

However, the company said its revenues in the fourth quarter are expected to range between $1.2m and $1.8m, “representing a significant increase when compared to revenue of $0.6m in the third quarter of 2017”.