Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
A proposed lithium-ion battery recycling pilot plant in Fernley is getting closer to reality.
The City of Fernley planning commission is scheduled to consider an application for a conditional use permit for American Battery Technology Company at its meeting this Wednesday, May 12. The planning commission will vote to recommend or deny the application, which will ultimately be decided by the City Council.
The company last August held a “groundbreaking ceremony” to celebrate its purchase of about 12.5 acres located off Logan Ln. adjacent to American Ready Mix.
At that time ABTC CEO Doug Cole said finding a location for the plant had been a three-year process. He said he chose Fernley for the location in large part because it’s in a Qualified Opportunity Zone, and because of affordable land, the proximity to Reno, and the easy access to Interstate 80 and the railroad.
Cole said the pilot plant will house a clean technology platform that increases production of primary metals used in the batteries that power electric cars, grid storage applications, consumer electronics, and power tools.
“Our technology creates a circular economy for battery metals that recycles lithium-ion batteries to recover and reuse battery metals,” he said.
At the time he announced the purchase of the property last year, Cole said approximately 100,000 tons of such batteries had been recycled in the previous year, and he estimated it will be 30 million tons per year by 2030.
“At the pilot factory, we will operationalize at scale our proprietary recycling and extraction technologies to demanufacture lithium batteries and to extract the valuable critical materials in these batteries,” he said. “We will then separate and purify the materials to battery grade metals (lithium, nickel, cobalt, and manganese) so they can be sold back into the EV and battery supply chain.”
Cole said the plant will recover battery metals from end-of-life batteries through a water-based recycling and extraction processes.
“There is no heating or smelting in this process and as a result, no hazardous air emissions,” he said. “We fully recycle all materials in a closed-loop process, which means there is no water discharge and the water used is cleaner at the end of the process than the original well water.
He also said the pilot plant will be equipped with scrubbers that eliminate odor from the near-zero air emissions produced by the recycling process.
“While this is a pilot plant, our process has been tested and refined at bench scale through our labs and alongside our partners like BASF,” Cole said. “We know all of the chemicals involved and the results produced. These results have been replicated many times in bench trials, so we know there are no hazardous air or water emissions. The process, recycling a variety of proprietary battery chemistries, has also been validated by multiple external partners such as BASF and the Department of Energy.”
Cole expects the plant to create at least 50 new jobs paying what he described as “a living wage,” although he didn’t specify what an average salary might be. He also said ABTC is working with Western Nevada College on developing training programs, and they are committed to local hiring.
In a presentation to the Fernley Chamber of Commerce last month, Cole said that “direct and indirect economic benefit will commence in 2021 and will result in an estimated economic impact of $348 million over 10 years, starting this spring when they begin purchasing equipment for the pilot factory and over the summer and fall as they begin hiring personnel for the pilot factory.
Many local residents have expressed skepticism and concern about the plant. Cole said most of that is because of negative claims that have been made against the company, which Cole described as “false and defamatory reports” meant to manipulate stock prices. ABTC recently hired the Ashcroft Firm, headed by former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, to investigate the claims.
“We categorically deny the allegations and the Ashcroft Firm will investigate this matter and take all available legal recourses to protect our shareholders,” Cole said. “The Company also intends to report this activity to the appropriate regulators — Wall Street speculation should not discredit the promising technology that ABTC is bringing to the market.”
At last year’s “groundbreaking,” Mayor Roy Edgington said the onus will be on ABTC to prove its methods are safe.
“They’re going to have to assure us that we’re not going to have a health issue.” Edgington said.
In addition to the city permitting process, ABTC has also begun permitting processes with Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP). The project will require an Air Permit and a Written Determination.
Cole said all construction permitting will be in place if it is approved by the City Council. Site mass grading may take place once grading permits are approved prior to CUP approval subject to bonding for the work to be performed. He said he expect building permits to be fully in place by late summer and environmental permits through NDEP in place by end of 2021.
With many more companies expected to be moving into the Fernley area in the next few years, Cole said that ABTC wants to be an example for other companies coming into Fernley.
“We are always thinking beyond ourselves and our company and we are eager to collaborate and scale the most environmentally-friendly technologies possible in the recycling, extraction, mining industries,” he said. “ We hope to serve as a leader in community engagement, as well as develop talent through well-paying technical manufacturing jobs.”