PGMs & recycling

Why are PGMs recycled?

Secondary production or recycling plays an important role in lowering the environmental footprint of the global PGM production. With responsible stewardship, PGMs can be recycled over and over again with a minimum to zero loss, resulting in a continual reduction of the environmental load of each successive life cycle. However, without virgin mined platinum group metals, global supply would not meet demand for the multiple industries using PGMs such as automotive, medicine, chemical, and petroleum that reduce emissions or improve life and health. Hence, primary and secondary production are intertwined.

Using state-of-the art recycling technologies, over 95% of the PGM content of spent automotive catalysts (and other PGM-containing materials) can be repeatedly recovered.

The high value of PGMs drives the recycling of other metals present in PGM-containing products that might not otherwise be recovered.

The PGM industry itself repeatedly recycles PGMs from their applications with recovery efficiencies of up to 95%. It collaborates with other stakeholders to increase recycling rates. Targeting the weakest link in the recycling chain provides the best opportunity for improving the recycling rate of PGMs, which in turn can help reduce the overall environmental impact of the PGM supply.

Where are PGMs recylced?

Depending on the application, most PGMs are recoverable through the product lifecycle, from production scrap through to end-of-life materials.

PGMs are reused in two ways:

  1. Open loop recycling: when the original purchaser of the metal does not retain control over the PGM, the metal is available to the market again once recovered. The main source of open-loop metal is automotive catalytic converters, which are widely recovered from scrapped vehicles and recycled to recover the contained platinum, palladium or rhodium contained. Some metal is also recovered from the jewellery and electronics markets.
  2. Closed loop recycling: refers to the situation where the metal remains within the application, e.g., when metal is recovered from used chemical catalysts and is used to produce fresh catalysts to replace the spent charge. While this metal is processed by PGM refiners, the equivalent amount of metal is usually returned to the original owner, who retains the metal value. As the net amount of metal in use has not changed, this returned metal is not counted towards market supply. Re-using metal in such way avoids the need for virgin mined metal, thereby contributing to make demand more sustainable.