What does the role of President of United Catalyst Corporation entail? Auto Recycling World finds out from Becky Berube about how she came to be the incumbent president, and her take on the auto recycling industry.
My name is Becky Berube, I am based in the US, and I serve the recycling community as President of United Catalyst Corporation, Immediate Past President of the International Precious Metals Institute, a member of the Automotive Recyclers Association’s (ARA) Educational Programming Committee, and a member of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) Auto Recycling Committee. I co-founded United Catalyst Corporation nearly 30 years ago with my husband, Tim Berube. We offer the industry global processing and refining services for their scrap catalytic converters, oxygen sensors, electronic control modules (ECUs), and hybrid batteries.
In truth, as a young woman in my twenties, I was not drawn to recycling. I was an accountant for a mutual fund company in Boston, Massachusetts. Like many women, my path was a winding one, with seasons in and out of the industry. I always maintained a financial role in our company until I left to work for a global refiner. In 2011, I began traveling to North America to work with recyclers, and everything changed. It was then that I truly began to understand the autocatalyst recycling supply chain and developed a passion for helping recyclers get the most from their catalytic converters with the scientific method of determining the precious metals content inside of them, a process called assay. In 2013, I was hired back to United Catalyst, and we brought an assay-based selling program directly to automotive recyclers, first in North America and now globally.
United Catalyst has grown over the past thirty years to include a state-of-art facility in Greenville, South Carolina. The Company can de-can, shred, mill, and analyze almost any automotive scrap that contains precious metals. The company is set up to move into the future and help recyclers reclaim critical technology materials from the conventional car to the connected car, and eventually, the circular car.
We have four pillars that guide our company: A process you can trust, a program you can trust, a partner you can trust, and the power of education. At the end of the day, this business is all about trust. Can the recycler trust you to do what you say you will do, and will it benefit them?
United Catalyst Corporation brings many unique features to the marketplace. First, at United Catalyst, all converters are sold on recovery or assay; we do not purchase whole units. We believe this is the best process and the only way to recycle converters.
Second, our process is completely scientific, and our results are validated through a third party, either the end-refiner or an approved laboratory. Third, I am very proud of our ethical and internal processing standards, which make us balance all the weights in and out of our facility for each recycler lot and do not allow for dust loss or assay skimming, which takes away money from the recycler. Fourth, we are committed to building tools that help recyclers optimize the vehicles they purchase at auction and the sale of their precious metals. Finally, our program is easy and accessible to all recyclers regardless of their size, with the same scientific process for everyone. A recycler only needs 100 converters to process converters in our program.
The Challenge of Converter Theft
Current and future challenges exist for our industry. Converter theft has proliferated with the steep rise in precious metals prices over the past year-and-a-half. The first line of defense must be with the recycler marking and securely containing their inventory. Getting converters quickly into the recycling stream also helps because the physical converter now becomes precious metal ounces that can be held on account or sold.
Recently, most of the world’s processors, smelters, and refiners met to address this issue, and a task force or working group has been formed. Most reputable companies will be increasing their anti-money laundering (AML) and know-your-customer (KYC) policies to keep bad actors out of the legitimate recycling stream. Black market activities are sure to persist, so the penalties and crimes enforcement for stolen converters will need to increase at the same time.
What Happens to Platinum Group Metals (PGMs) if Combustion Engines Become Obsolete by 2030?
Will the world’s governments and automakers meet their climate-control-driven mandates to discontinue sales of diesel and gasoline cars in favor of zero-emission vehicles by 2030? And what does the electrification movement mean for the supply and demand of precious metals predominantly used in automotive catalysts to control emissions?
The “Group of Seven (G7) nations backed away from plans to set a target for making sure most new cars sold are greener vehicles, instead pledging only to speed up efforts to move away from combustion engines,” reported Automotive News on June 14. This language was a move away from earlier communication drafts that spoke of “ensuring” that most car sales would be zero-emission by 2030.
In the short term, for the next 10 – 15 years, expect to see an increase in the demand for platinum group metals (PGMs) for several reasons. As emission standards increase across the globe, so do the PGM loadings in converters. The real-world driving emissions (RDE) test which measures specific pollutants such as NOx emissions requires higher loadings of rhodium (Rh), the superior metal application. Analysts and consultants suggest as much a 20% higher. Hybrids and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) also require 5-10% more PGMs due to frequent engine cold starts. As the world makes the move toward electrification with hybrids leading to fully electric and then fuel cell-powered vehicles, auto catalyst producers are set to swap out the more predominant palladium (Pd) for platinum (Pt) and rhodium (Rh) in the coming years.
With more precious metals being used in converters and an average vehicle age of 20 at the time of scrappage, the supply of recycled PGMs, especially Pd is expected to increase from 5 million ounces (MOZ) to 7 MOZ. by its peak in 2031-2032. As mobility trends toward fuel cell electric which uses more platinum in the storage of hydrogen energy, it is the long-term demand for palladium that is in question. If zero-emission mandates are adopted to allow for only fully electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) will be eliminated along with internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. Palladium demand will be seriously hampered. Consultant, Matt Watson of Precious Metals Commodity Management, LLC, suggests that “Palladium will push from structural deficit to structural surplus without new demand source(s). It is not a question of if, it is a question of when.”
Outlook for Automotive Recyclers and Auto Catalyst Recycling
Over the next 15 to 20 years, as vehicles come off the road, the supply of palladium from scrap catalytic converters is set to increase, while the supply of platinum decreases. At the same time, the opposite will happen to demand; platinum demand will increase as palladium demand decreases unless alternative uses for palladium are found. In the short term, PGM prices are well supported at current, if not, higher levels.
In the short term, expect price volatility. Standard rules do not apply. Precious metals are considered a safe haven investment since they earn no interest, often a safety net when markets decline, or a hedge against inflation. With demand factors like semi-conductor chip shortages and increased use of PGMs in catalyst loadings, the technical rules may not apply. The moral of this story is if you are recycling scrap catalytic converters on assay, and participating in the sale of your precious metals, stay hedged.
Personally, I am very excited about the future of our industry for everyone. I believe the recovery of critical technology materials from automobiles is on the rise for the foreseeable future. I believe the future of auto recycling will be more complex but present greater opportunities. I believe young professionals have a great career ahead of them in this industry. Most of all, I have learned from Winston Churchill and Ken Blanchard that it is always too soon to quit, and that none of us is as smart as all of us.
If you have questions about this article or any issue pertaining to the recovery of precious metals and materials from automotive recycling, we at United Catalyst, are here to help you. United Catalyst Corporation is a processor of scrap catalytic converters that offer global refining services. Our recycling solutions are accurate, scientific, and verifiable to get you the most money.
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