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CEBRA project to contribute to the reintegration of PGM in the circular economy

ULiège’s recent PGM and ACC seminar incorporates European EIT RawMaterials Upscaling project ‘CEBRA’

Philippe Giaro, Senior Research Officer, Mineral, Materials & Environmental Engineering at the University of Liège, provides Auto Recycling World with a summary of the recent seminar on platinum group metals (PGM) and automotive catalytic converters (ACC) with focus on the European EIT RawMaterials Upscaling project ‘CEBRA’.


CEBRA project to contribute to the reintegration of PGM in the circular economy p
Philippe Giaro

On the 4th to 5th of October 2021, the University of Liège organized a two-day seminar on Platinum Group Metals (PGM) and Automotive Catalytic Converters (ACC). The event is programmed within the context of the European EIT RawMaterials Upscaling project ‘CEBRA’ titled “Integrated Circular Economy Business model for decoupling Europe from PGM supply”. 

The two-day event covered a broad range of related topics by featuring a high-level panel of experts in the fields of PGM markets; trade, collection and end-of-life vehicle recycling; advanced emissions control technologies; hydrometallurgy of PGM as well as the hydrogen sector.

This event underscores a major societal, technological and industrial ongoing transition for several reasons; an obvious one is our current strategy for decarbonization, electric mobility and electric vehicles and their batteries which embody media attention and public fascination for a green technological revolution.

While very real and necessary, there were 10 million electric cars on the world’s roads at the end of 2020 or about 1% of the 1 billion passenger cars currently in circulation on our planet. So, 99% of all passenger cars still run on fossil fuels and require some form of pollution control, notably in the form of PGM based automotive catalytic converters.

Despite our necessary greening agenda, oil price is increasing sharply, and we fully see our dependence on carbon-based technologies. At the same time, electronic chip shortages and stresses on mineral supply chains such as lithium, cobalt and REE threaten to slow down the pace toward rapid decarbonization.

In this context, the themes developed in this CEBRA short course appear fundamental.

PGM represents six transitional metal elements that are chemically and physically similar, the three main ones being Platinum (Pt), Palladium (Pd), Rhodium (Rh). Due to their scarcity and difficulty in production, coupled with the essential role these metals play in “clean air technologies” for the automotive sector, PGM are officially classified by the European Union (EU) as Critical Raw Materials (CRM).

PGM production being virtually non-existent in Europe, the EU is entirely dependent on export from South Africa and Russia, the main producing countries which are responsible for 75 to 80% of the PGM world mine supply. On the demand side, ACC represent by far the largest application with a 53% market share in Europe as vehicle manufacturers and car owners need to comply with ever-increasingly strict pollution emission standards, which can only be achieved with the use of ACC. Beyond Europe and looking at a broader spectrum of automotive applications, the world market for ACC consumes 66% of PGM production. Future mobility applications, such as Hybrid Vehicles and Membrane Fuel Cell technology, are vitally dependent on PGM specific properties.

The CEBRA project focuses on the dual objective to manufacture ACC integrating 100% recycled PGM while simultaneously decreasing the PGM quantity via partial substitution by a low-cost, more abundant and politically less sensitive transition metals such as copper. End-customers, such as personal vehicle owners and commercial vehicle operators, will benefit from the resulting price optimization, while a broader societal impact is expected from the alleviation of the two main disadvantages. The project will also contribute to the reintegration of PGM in the circular economy to secure CRM for future applications in line with the EU’s green agenda.

The event agenda was as follows:

Day 1 – 4 October 2021

Session 1 – Markets and regulations

  • Global trade in second hand cars – Patrick Van den Bossche (AGORIA, Belgium)
  • PGM markets – trends in demand, mine supply and recycling – Trevor Raymond (World Platinum Investment Council, UK)
  • Advanced emissions control technologies as part of future-proof Internal Combustion Engines – Joachim Demuynck (Association for Emissions Control by Catalyst, Belgium)

Session 2 – Collecting to remanufacturing – CEBRA value chain

  • Collection of ELV and catalytic converters – Catherine Lenaerts (FEBELAUTO, Belgium)
  • ELV recycling and catalytic converters dismantling – Gregory Lewis (Comet Traitements, Belgium)
  • Pre-treatment of spent catalytic converters – Fanny Lambert (Université de Liège, Belgium)
  • Polymetallic catalyst powder synthesis and production of prototype honeycomb monolithic reactors – Marios Kourtelesis (Monolithos Catalysts & Recycling Ltd., Greece)

Day 2 – 5 October 2021

Session 3 – Characterization and hydrometallurgy

  • Process Oriented Characterization of EoL PGM and Evaluating Future Urban Mines – Ali Hassan (Université de Liège, Belgium)
  • Hydrometallurgy of PGM – Jochen Petersen (University of Cape Town, South Africa)
  • Use of alternative hydrometallurgical route to recover PGM (Platirus H2020) – Laura Sanchez Cupido (Tecnalia Research and Innovation, Spain)
  • Medium-Scale Hydrometallurgical PGMs Recycling Plants – Barriers and Perspectives for SME recyclers – Anastasia-Maria Moschovi (Monolithos Catalysts & Recycling Ltd., Greece)

Session 4 – PGM beyond traditional applications: hydrogen, heavy-duty vehicles

  • Hydrogen production – Nicolas Balczunas (John Cockerill, Belgium)
  • Hydrogen Production by PEM Electrolysis – New PGM-based Catalysts for the Giga-Watt Scale – Philipp Walter (Heraeus, Germany)
  • Platinum as catalyst for fuel cells – Nathalie Job (Université de Liège, Belgium)
  • HD vehicle: a PGM niche sector – Konstantinos Sakkas (Monolithos Catalysts & Recycling Ltd., Greece)