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Platinum group metals innovation from South Africa saves a lot more energy

Platinum group metals represent an attractive market for recyclers in various parts of the world. A new player stepping onto the scene is AltMet, based in South Africa. The start-up has developed a novel process to recover platinum, palladium and rhodium from catalytic converters in a ‘much more energy efficient’ way than is currently possible.

‘We are a young company, but we have managed a recovery rate in excess of 95 % so far,’ AltMet ceo Collins Saguru tells Recycling International. Thanks to a unique chloride hydrometallurgical process, the metals are recovered as a crude PGM concentrate that can be sold off to existing refineries for further processing.

Ambitious outlook

Not only does AltMet’s approach use a lot less energy, the method also allows Saguru and his team to establish a basis for recovering other values from the leach solution. 

AltMet is currently negotiating with various South African mining firms and investors while preparing to launch a pilot plant. The proposed site will have a capacity of 10 tons per year and will run for an initial test period of 12 months, after which the recycling technique will be evaluated.

Saguru adds that AltMet is eager to explore the option of expanding its scope to include e-scrap, which is an abundant waste stream in South Africa. This would potentially advance the recycling of other precious metals – like gold, silver and cobalt.

Shaky year for platinum?

New data suggests that 2018 will see platinum hit its fourth year of supply surplus due to decreased demand in the automotive sector. Total supply for platinum was at roughly 7.5 million ounces last year, according to CPM Group. This was up from around 7.35 million ounces in 2016.

Meanwhile, platinum prices dropped 9% last year, thus hitting a nine-year low. As a result of slumping prices, the world’s second largest platinum mining company Ampala has just cut 2500 jobs a South African mines already this year, with likely more lay-offs to follow. The highest platinum peak in platinum prices was in 2011.

Want to read more about platinum group metals? Stay tuned for our feature article on the topic, to be included in the upcoming issue of Recycling International.

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