Aepnus wants to create a circular economy for key battery manufacturing materials | TechCrunch

Earlier this year, BASF was Delay in opening The case of a battery materials plant in Finland stirred controversy when the court agreed with environmental groups that the company did not have a good plan for dealing with its wastewater.

As Battery factories are opening around the worldThe problem of wastewater is hampering their construction work. However, one startup says the solution is not to dispose of wastewater, but to recycle it.

The wastewater from these plants is full of sodium sulfate, a byproduct of sulfuric acid and caustic soda. Both of these chemicals are used in battery manufacturing, copper refining and other industries.

“We can create a completely circular economy around these reagent chemicals,” said Bilen Akuzum, co-founder and CTO of . Apnus Technologytold TechCrunch.

Akuzum and co-founder Lukas Hackl didn’t set out to create a mini-circular economy, but it occurred to them while touring lithium mining operations in California and Nevada. The pair of chemists, who have been friends since meeting in their dorm cafeteria, were researching potential startup ideas.

“We were thinking about lithium extraction or something else in the mineral sector,” Akuzum said. “Every time we talked to someone from the industry, they would say, ‘Well, there are actually solutions for lithium extraction. But we have this waste product that’s coming out of our operations, and we don’t really know what to do with it.’”

After returning from the trip, Akuzum and Hackel mulled over the idea and eventually decided to refine existing technology to convert the waste into raw material that the units could use in their operations.

The two founded Apnus to modernize the centuries-old chloralkali process, which breaks down salts such as sodium sulfate into the acids and bases from which they were made.

The company uses an electrolyzer to destroy the salts, causing them to split. Other companies do the same thing, but they may use expensive metals to help speed up the reactions. “We don’t use any expensive catalysts in our electrolyzer,” Akuzum said.

Apnus is currently shipping half-scale models of its equipment to customers, who can test the devices on their own wastewater streams. Each site’s wastewater is likely to contain different contaminants, some of which need to be filtered out beforehand. Once those are filtered out, the electrolyzers can get to work removing the sodium sulfate.

For customers, fully recycling sodium sulfate waste should reduce disposal and material costs. And workers in remote areas, such as miners, are also saving on transportation. “Instead of buying these chemicals for mining operations and trucking them in from very long distances, we can regenerate those chemicals from the waste right here on site,” Akuzum said.

The startup has more than 15 customers in various stages of development, from feasibility studies to testing pilot-scale devices. Apnus recently raised an $8 million seed round to supply more of the pilot-scale electrolysers and develop commercial-scale versions. The round was led by Clean Energy Ventures with participation from Gravity Climate Fund, Impact Science Ventures, LowerCarbon Capital, Moose Climate Partners, and Voyager Ventures.

If Apnus can commercially produce its electrolyzer, it will be a milestone for the U.S. “There are only a few companies in the entire world that have the expertise to build this kind of electrolyzer,” Akuzum said. “Unfortunately, there is not a single company in the United States that has this know-how.”