Iakovos V. Yakoumis, CEBRA Co-ordinator and CEO, Monolithos Catalysts & Recycling Ltd discusses the Cebra project and its focus on recycling platinum group metals (PGMs) from end of life autocatalysts.
Automotive catalytic converters (ACCs) are essential to reduce the pollutants emitted from gasoline and diesel vehicle engines, improving air quality and protecting human health and the environment. Platinum group metals (PGMs) are the active materials used in autocatalysts and are essential to their performance. Platinum, palladium and rhodium are the most relevant PGMs used in autocatalysts, an application that accounted for over 70% of the PGMs demand in 2021.
Europe is the largest consumer of PGMs globally, which, however, imports approximately 84% of its primary supply from South Africa and Russia.
PGMs have high commercial prices, and the increasing supply-demand gap in Europe has made recycling an integral part of the industrial ecosystem. This has resulted in large industries creating dedicated facilities for recycling PGMs from spent autocatalysts and other end-of-life products.
However, the associated processes have a high environmental impact (large CO2 emissions), high resource consumption (electricity and chemicals), and hazardous for the operators. Furthermore, in Europe, there are no sufficient collection networks for such spent materials, and the pre-treatment facilities are not technically satisfactory. Thus, Europe needs to improve its recycling facilities and collection network of spent materials to meet the high European demand for PGMs.
The CEBRA project (www.cebra-eitproject.eu) (Figure 1), focuses on recycling PGMs from spent autocatalysts and using them to manufacture new autocatalysts by integrating 100% recycled PGMs, while partially substituting them by Copper (low-cost metal compared to PGMs) (Figure 2).
Launched in January 2020, the project is coordinated by MONOLITHOS Catalysts & Recycling Ltd (Greece) – Industrial SME, while the consortium is completed by the participation of four other European organizations: Centro Ricerche Fiat S.C.p.A. (CRF) (Italy) – Industry, Comet Traitements SA (Belgium) – Industry, Fundación Tecnalia Research & Innovation (Spain) – Research and Technology Provider, and Université de Liège (Belgium) – Academia.
CEBRA commercialises a new PGMs recycling process, operated in a 1000 liters reactor, to recover PGMs from spent vehicle catalytic converters and diesel particulate filters (Figure 3). The recovered PGMs are then utilised in the manufacturing of new catalysts for all commercial vehicle makes and models. The competitive advantages of CEBRA’s technology are increased PGMs recovery close to 90%, lower operational costs reaching 30% power consumption reduction, as well as simplicity and flexibility in the installation and operation of the unit. Within the new catalytic converters, PGMs are partially substituted by copper, thereby reducing the market price of the catalyst by 50% compared to a commercial one, while maintaining the same (or better) performance and efficiency.
CEBRA creates significant value for the consortium partners and for European industries by providing a one-stop-shop recycling technology (ready for installation and operation) of spent autocatalysts, to recover PGMs that can be sold to end-users for various applications in the EU (such as autocatalysts manufacturing, jewelry, electrical, chemical and petroleum refining sectors), thus significantly boosting the revenues of the company.
The CEBRA recycling business model is followed by producing new autocatalysts using recycled PGMs and Copper that are commercialized in the automotive sector (Original and Aftermarket) to diversify revenue streams. The project is foreseen to be completed by 2026, while commercialization of the unit and the manufactured autocatalysts will be carried out thereafter, followed by the interest of several industries on the specific recycling technology and the new autocatalysts.
The CEBRA process will be commercially available through licensing to the interested industries. SMEs and start-ups will be able to operate profitable businesses by recycling PGMs and directly selling them for end-use applications. Especially for automotive recyclers, the CEBRA unit can upgrade their facilities and increase their profit margins by processing the spent catalytic converters in-house. Instead of directly selling the spent catalytic converter to refineries, the processed PGMs powder has commercial added value, while PGMs are constantly in high demand by EU companies.
Besides, the CEBRA unit has been designed to be portable-fitted in a container for easy transport and space savings, allowing for companies with limited premises to operate and gain market share in a highly demanding field while having up to 30% reduced equipment and operating costs. In parallel, environmental impacts are brought by recycling residual products instead of disposing of them and creating sustainable business models aligned with EU industrial ambitions for a circular economy.
To find out more about The CEBRA project, go to www.cebra-eitproject.eu