Umicore offers a whole range of services to the different players in the market, from the moment the converter or component has become a waste for recycling up to final financial return.
This includes the following, either directly or through wholly owned subsidiaries, alternatively through long-term dedicated partners (the latter for some portion of the collection):
The point of origin of a used or end-of-life converter is a service garage, a muffler shop, a car dismantling yard, a junkyard, a shredder of ferrous and non-ferrous scrap, a scrap collector. Simply put, there are thousands and thousands of outlets.
Collectors (whether specialized in spent catalytic converters, automotive spare-parts or scrap in general) take it upon themselves to go to all these points, "collect" smaller individual quantities and bring it to their own yard or warehouse in order to accumulate larger quantities. In a later step, these collectors will possibly sell to wholesale collectors, alternatively ship directly to a PGM-refiner for direct sale or toll-refining. Umicore relies on a network of independent preferred partners in others.
- decanning of ceramic converters
The decanning of (ceramic) catalytic converters, containing ceramic honeycomb bricks, implies opening the converter in order to separate the ceramic brick (or broken brick) from the steel can. This type of operation is mostly done by some form of hydraulic shear (commonly called "guillotines" in North America; in Europe, the most common process is best described as a modified alligator shear). Alternative processes include a plasma burner or a disc saw, but the latter two processes are usually limited to small quantities. Umicore uses both alligator shears and guillotines.
HINT: Whatever the process used, make sure to pay proper attention to dust collection and safety.
- shredding of metallic converters
The shredding of (metallic) catalytic converters, containing a metallic substrate (rolled up corrugated foil), itself coated with a thin layer of metal oxides (washcoat), is achieved by passing it through one or more different types of shredders, followed by separation of various fractions of steel scrap (such as can-fraction, foil-fraction) from the precious metal containing fraction (washcoat). Umicore uses a dedicated partner to do this separation, after which the washcoat is returned to Umicore for sampling and processing.
- weighing and sampling of ceramic honeycomb or washcoat
Making sure that material is accurately weighed and sampled - thereby providing correct weights, moisture content and representative samples for assaying - is one of the most important steps in an assay-based transaction. Indeed, if the sample is not representative, how can the supplier get the return he deserves? Furthermore, especially with materials like electronic scrap that contains hazardous substances, precise determination of the material composition is a prerequisite of environmentally sound treatment. At Umicore Precious Metal Refining, the customer has the right to be represented during the weighing and sampling process, thereby increasing the level of trust and confidence.
- quick assay clausule
Shortly after arrival of ceramic material at its premises, Umicore will perform a fast assay (XRF) allowing a quick provisional fixation of the precious metal-content.
Representative samples are assayed by both the refiner's lab and - if desired - by the customer's lab (or alternatively an external lab appointed by the customer). Assays from both labs can then be exchanged and compared, leading to settlement by splitting the difference or, if this is too large, relying on assays by a third party, usually known as an umpire. Assaying can be done by a variety of techniques, possibly leading to similar results. Umicore uses fire-assay (collection on Pb) followed by ICP for final determination and has a century of expertise in low concentrations.
- smelting and refining
The Umicore plant in Hoboken uses a unique metallurgical flowsheet, based on copper, lead and nickel as collector metals to secure high recovery yields for all precious metals and numerous other metals. The crucial steps, which turned the Hoboken facility into the most modern and cleanest plant of its kind in the world, have been the considerable investments of € 400 million in technology between 1996 and 2010. At the heart of this technological quantum leap is the new smelter, which serves as a gateway and upgrading step for most incoming electronic scrap fractions. Any plastics or organic residues contained in the input materials are also utilized as a reducing agent and partly as a fuel substitute. All processes are equipped with highly efficient off-gas and waste water cleaning systems, which make it possible to comply with the strictest environmental standards, even for difficult and complex feed materials. The plant is certified under ISO9001 and 14001 as well as OHSAS18001. Over 95% of the feed is turned into useful products, and the final slag from the plant is used for construction purposes (e.g. for dyke construction). As to the small remaining, non-recyclable portion of the feed, toxic elements such as cadmium (Cd) or mercury (Hg) are also systematically extracted and subsequently disposed of in a safe and controlled way. This clearly avoids the risk of contaminating the environment, which would happen if these elements were not processed in the right way. Unlike some other operations, Umicore Precious Metal Refining processes electronic scrap on-site up to at least 99.95% fine metals.
- assay-based settlement
Each recycling lot shipped to Umicore is settled with the customer based on the agreements and contracts concluded beforehand. These contracts consider the economical values obtained from recovering the (precious) metals on the one hand and the efforts needed to do this (including off-gas and waste water treatment) on the other. The customer receives detailed documentation, which states the weights and quality of materials received, guaranteeing appropriate treatment and hence underlining our commitment to maximize traceability and transparency.