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Catalyst Recycling: Green Competitiveness for the Petrochemical and Automobile Industries

By Korbin Lan
Published: Oct 07,2015


Figure 1 :   Each year Taiwan produces over ten thousand tons of FCC waste catalysts on its own soil due to oil refining.
Figure 1 : Each year Taiwan produces over ten thousand tons of FCC waste catalysts on its own soil due to oil refining.

Reducing costs and increasing revenues are the iron laws of business. To companies in the petrochemical and automobile industries, recycling precious metals from waste catalysts is the best strategy for improving operations. It is not only capable of reducing operation costs but it can even become an operating asset, which is why it is the key to the industry’s sustainable operations.

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In the petrochemical industry the catalytic cracking procedure is an important part of the crude oil refining process. Crude oil contains transition metals, such as vanadium, nickel, chromium, zinc, and lead, which causes Fluid Catalytic Cracking Catalysts (FCC) or Residue Fluidized Catalytic Cracking (RFCC) used in refining processes to gradually lose their potency due to pollution by these transition metals and eventually needing to be replaced.


Waste Catalysts are Rich in Abundant Precious Metals

Taking Taiwan’s Formosa Petrochemical Corporation and CPC Corporation, Taiwan as examples, both companies produce five to six thousand tons of FFC waste catalysts in a year, meaning that each year Taiwan produces over ten thousand tons of FCC waste catalysts on its own soil due to oil refining. Furthermore, these waste catalysts contain not only several precious metals but also significant amounts of toxic metal materials. If they are not disposed of properly, they will cause serious environmental damage.


In the past, the petrochemical industry dealt with waste catalysts by burying them, which was not only an unprofitable use of resources but also severely harmful to the ecological environment. A few years ago recycling technologies for waste catalysts began to be presented to the public, which brought about a brand new vision for the petrochemical industry.


Nevertheless, today recycling techniques for waste catalysts have enormous shortcomings. Although a portion of precious metals are recycled, the procedures produce other pollutants and also result in losses of other resources.


“It is certain that currently incineration techniques are used for the vast majority of waste catalyst recycling overseas to separate out a portion of the precious metals,” said Kenny Hsu, Managing Director of UWin Nanotech.


He pointed out that these burning techniques require putting the catalysts through incinerators; however, every time these incinerators are started they require large amounts of fuel, and they also produce exhaust fumes. These methods not only deplete the Earth’s resources but there are also air pollution concerns with the exhaust fumes that they produce.


In addition, incineration methods thoroughly destroy substrates and cause the catalyst materials to lose any potential for being recycled.


Each year US$ 400 million can be earned through environmentally-friendly precious metal stripping technology

In order to rectify these shortcomings and make waste catalyst recycling profitable and at the same time more friendly to the environment and people’s health, Uwin Nanotech has launched an environmentally-friendly stripping product especially designed for recycling precious metals in waste catalysts: UW-195. The product is an environmental stripping prescription which can quickly strip the precious metals palladium (Pd) and platinum (Pt) from waste catalysts at room temperature.


According to experiments at Uwin Nanotech, without being pulverized waste catalysts containing palladium can be obtained by this formula with a recycled rate of 2.83g Pd/Kg. If five thousand tons of waste catalysts are produced in a year, it can yield 14150 Kg of palladium, which is valued at over US$400 million.



Figure 2 :   Uwin Nanotech tried taking 140g of waste catalyst and soaking it in 50ml of the stripping solution, and one minute later it yielded a palladium solution with a concentration of 4.59g Pd/L.
Figure 2 : Uwin Nanotech tried taking 140g of waste catalyst and soaking it in 50ml of the stripping solution, and one minute later it yielded a palladium solution with a concentration of 4.59g Pd/L.

“We take 2g of waste catalyst and soak it in 100ml of gold stripping solution (a 68% concentration of 50ml nitric acid mixed with 50ml of UW-195 gold stripping prescrption) at a 25℃ room temperature, and in only a few dozen seconds the palladium stripping is completed,” said Kenny.


If the quantities of waste catalysts are increased, the palladium concentration produced by the stripping will also increase. Uwin Nanotech also tried taking 140g of waste catalyst and soaking it in 50ml of the stripping solution, and one minute later it yielded a palladium solution with a concentration of 4.59g Pd/L.


More importantly, the overall environmentally-friendly stripping process does not harm the catalyst substrates, and the exteriors look just like they underwent direct reduction to the catalysts. This allows for improvements in the recycling of catalysts.


Car Catalytic Converters are another major resource.

To automobile manufacturers, catalytics are another manufacturing expense. Under the requirements of current legal regulations, catalytic converters are standard pieces of equipment that must be installed in all cars on factory floors in order to reduce harmful exhaust emissions.


Likewise, when manufacturing car catalytic converters only small amounts of precious metals, such as gold (Au), palladium (Pd), platinum (Pt), and rhodium (Rh) may be used. According to a forecast by the market research institute, Global Information, in 2019 the global number of automobiles which used catalytic converters will reach a market scope of 43.39 million units.


Figure 3 :   This is currently the peak time for the replacement of catalytic converters. If these precious metals can be recycled when old catalytic converters are replaced, this will be of immediate help in improving manufacturing costs.
Figure 3 : This is currently the peak time for the replacement of catalytic converters. If these precious metals can be recycled when old catalytic converters are replaced, this will be of immediate help in improving manufacturing costs.

On the other hand, catalytic converters are expendable and must be replaced after approximately eighty thousand km, which is the equivalent of an 8-10 year lifespan. For the standpoint of estimating times for the implementation of legal regulations, this is currently the peak time for the replacement of catalytic converters. Therefore, if these precious metals can be recycled when old catalytic converters are replaced, this will be of immediate help in improving manufacturing costs.


Taking automobiles as an example, the exterior casing of most catalytic converters are made of stainless steel or cast iron and contain porcelain or metals for catalyst support to form a palladium metal attachment or solid spread structure. Each automobile uses a catalytic converter weighing approximately 4 to 7 kg, which consists of catalyst support weighing 1 to 3 kg and containing approximately 4g (0.13 ounce) of palladium or rhodium.



Figure 4 :   The exterior casing of most catalytic converters are made of stainless steel or cast iron and contain porcelain or metals for catalyst support to form a palladium metal attachment or solid spread structure.
Figure 4 : The exterior casing of most catalytic converters are made of stainless steel or cast iron and contain porcelain or metals for catalyst support to form a palladium metal attachment or solid spread structure.

Currently catalytic converters differ according to the amount of exhaust that the automobile produces. However, platinum, palladium, and rhodium make up approximately 10%-20% of the production costs.


Immediately increase profit margins by 10%.

Using the UW-195 environmentally-friendly stripping prescription, Uwin Nanotech can successfully extract precious metals from waste catalytic converters in automobiles.


Because catalytic converters in automobiles have large volumes and their external layers contain metals such as stainless steel, they must first be processed before precious metal stripping can be carried out. The Uwin Nanotech team first removes the catalytic converter itself, and then they grind it into powder before soaking it in the UW-195 solution. After three hours, the precious metals that have been stripped from the catalytic converter can be obtained from the solution.


ICP optical spectrum testing shows that in the solution the precious metal content includes gold (92.58 ppm), platinum (1411.6 ppm), and rhodium (163.9 ppm).


“If a 1 kg sample of a car catalytic converter is calculated, it will yield an estimated 1.4 g of gold, 0.14 g of platinum, and 0.13 g of rhodium, which currently is valued at US$53. The substrate also contains other metals that can be treated,” said Kenny.



Figure 5 :   Uwin Nanotech team first removes the catalytic converter itself, and then they grind it into powder before soaking it in the UW-195 solution. After three hours, the precious metals that have been stripped from the catalytic converter can be obtained from the solution.
Figure 5 : Uwin Nanotech team first removes the catalytic converter itself, and then they grind it into powder before soaking it in the UW-195 solution. After three hours, the precious metals that have been stripped from the catalytic converter can be obtained from the solution.

These results are surprising and can reduce production costs in the automobile industry by over 10%. In other words, profits can be increased by 10%, which is a tremendous advantage to automobile manufacturers.


The best vision is win-win for industry and the environment.

From the standpoint of the environment, Uwin Nanotech’s solutions, will enable already existing or soon-to-be existing large scale car catalytic converter replacements to be treated in a more environmentally-friendly manner. Not only will this increase companies’ profit margins, but it will also bring about a major reduction in harmful environmental pollution. It is truly a win-win situation for industry and the environment.


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