Recovering rare metals from catalysts
UK-based company Tetronics International has been working with Japanese firm Furuya Metal Co to develop a plasma pyrometallurgical facility that will recover platinum group metals from spent catalysts.
Recently opened, Tetronics has delivered the facility that uses direct current (DC) plasma waste recovery technology for the treatment of hazardous waste and metal recovery.
Furuya has introduced the plasma technology at its Tscuchiura plant to enable it to recover platinum group metals from low grade scrap catalysts with highly efficient technical recovery rates.
The plant only began operating in August, but it expects to start collecting scrap from next spring. It is expected to receive a subsidy from the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry under its Program for Conserving Consumption of Rare Metals’.
With platinum group metals, such as platinum, palladium and rhodium, valuable due to their low levels of natural abundance as well as the difficulties in extracting them from natural sources for primary sources, Tetronics is seeing huge interest in its plasma technology based on more than 80 plants already operating worldwide.
“The US is a new markets for us,” says Tetronics International group sales director Steve Gill, “and Asia is strong, especially China.”
“Our plants can process items such as WEEE, autocats and chemical catalysts and with a recovery rate in excessive of 98 per cent offers stella returns if you have got a good supply of waste.”
US companies are particularly interested is using the DC plasma technology to process WEEE with high-grade electronics such as mobile phones a particular focus.
This is because Tetronics’ technology can extract the range of high value rare metals involved in the manufacture of these phones.
Indeed, the company has recently been working with Furuya and Mitsubishi Corp to improve its technology to extract materials from a wider range of sources. The group has now developed know-how to recover ruthenium and iridium from low-grade scrap for example.
The process works by putting the materials into a furnace where they encounter a plasma arc. The materials are melted by this high temperature plasma arc with materials such as ceramics melted to form a bath of slag, iron particles then sweep up the precious metals with a recovery rate of more than 98 per cent.
Gas from the process is filtered off and cleaned, while the slag can be used as an aggregate.
“We are seeing the development of one-stop shops,” says Steve Gill. “Companies are now looking to bypass the traditional process so that customers come directly to them with material and it then goes through the Tetronics process.
“As a result, we can assume that it is becoming more of a closed loop process where the material can be used again back in catalysts.”
He adds that Tetronics has recently sold its first plant into Germany, while there is interest in United Arab Emirates due to the high number of petrochemical catalysts, and it is seeing opportunities in Russia, China and Turkey.
With plants opening all of the time, Tetronics is working to develop its technology so that it can be used for a extracting a wider variety of metals, but also so that it works more effectively.
Tetronics International and Furuya
What is the technology used?
Tetronics’ patented direct current plasma arc technology provides the closest solution to zero waste available.
The sustainable technology uses ultra-high temperatures to melt, gasify or vaporise any waste material in order to treat, recover or generate valuable commercial products.
The technology has been tested over five decades and has been used globally in more than 80 plants across a wide range of applications.
About Furuya Metal Co
Furuya Metal Co produces industrial-use precious metals using materials such as platinum group metals. This group includes metals such as platinum, palladium, rhodium, as well as iridium and ruthenium.