Precious metals recycling: quality of service (ERTC)

In today’s business world, proper supply chain management mandates that we examine the effectiveness of every individual process, the safe use of each man-hour, and the overall quality of all machinery, raw materials, and contracted services.

Brad Cook
Sabin Metal

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Article Summary

The decision on what fresh catalyst to purchase is an excellent example. Selectivity, activity, physical properties, and overall efficiency are carefully considered in order to maximise yield and product quality. Thankfully, all of these parameters can be scientifically measured through simulations, pilot plants, and bench testing, allowing engineers and management to choose the catalyst manufacturer and type that best meets goals and overcomes challenges.

Clearly, effectiveness, safety, and quality are just as important when choosing a platinum group metal (PGM) reclaimer for spent catalyst precious metals recovery. All customers rightly seek quality of service (QOS) from their precious metals refiner, but there can be no bench testing or simulations. Important key indicators remain ‘invisible’; that is, unknown to most clients and precious metals users. So how are we going to measure that which is invisible?

First and foremost, it doesn’t matter what you know until you know what matters. So, to illustrate precious metal recycling QOS, this article breaks down the three essential areas that truly matter:

- Practices: safeguarding against the ethically non-compliant and the financially unstable
- Performance: verifying proper processing, sampling, and analysis methodology
- Paperwork: gaining a detailed understanding of technical contract terms and knowing where the terms can dramatically affect your precious metal return.

It is obvious that without an honest precious metals refiner, one cannot hope to receive QOS. Ridiculously low terms can be given by the company that distorts the PGM content by the tiniest fraction of a percent. Sadly, the precious metals industry has seen more than its share of scandals, criminal proceedings, and convictions for smuggling, illegal dumping of hazardous materials, and outright fraud.

To protect financial interests, as well as reputation and legal complications, customers are encouraged to exercise a high level of diligence before selecting their PGM recycler. Regulatory and legal entities, and both industry and traditional media should be consulted to ensure a proper investigation. Request records and certifications for safety, environmental, and other regulatory adherence. Lastly, it is always highly recommended that the customer audit the precious metals refiner site to see first-hand the facilities and records.

The second important consideration is performance, or in a nutshell…competence. Once a pre-qualification audit has documented that the precious metals refiner has the tools, techniques, and trained personnel to successfully perform the scope of work, the client or their third-party representative should attend during the PGM catalyst weighing and sampling process. The second pair of eyes and ears on-site helps to eliminate the human error factor, provides valuable corroboration of the calibration of machinery, and maintains custody control of the samples drawn for final PGM analysis.

Obviously, the proper weighing of the catalyst shipment, accurate sampling, and the highest industry standard of precious metals analysis are absolute essentials. It takes trained people, calibrated equipment, time, and experience to accomplish this. It may sound trite, but quality cannot and does not come cheap. Degrees of accuracy are in direct correlation to the investment made in creating them, and in the precious metals market there is a substantial amount of false economy in adopting a ‘lowest bidder’ mentality.

Lastly, in addition to compliance and competence, one must comprehend the sometimes confusing details within precious metal refining contracts. Here are just some of the contractual details that can drastically decrease metal value returns and/or increase costs:

- The agreed variation between assays, also known as the ‘splitting limit’: Once the buyer and seller have their analytical results in hand, the splitting limit defines the maximum acceptable difference. If the assays are within the contractual splitting limit, the average of the two is calculated and the money can change hands. If the two assays are outside the splitting limit, a control sample is sent to a third-party lab to act as ‘umpire’ to settle the dispute. Standard industry practice on PGM catalyst calls for a splitting limit of 1% relative, but less-than-scrupulous precious metals refiners are trying to up this to 5% or even 10% relative. This splitting limit manipulation forces the compromise of huge amounts of money. Differences larger than 1% relative are a clear indication that one lab is wrong. The 1% splitting limit minimises the amount of risk, and helps confirm the analytical accuracy as it compels two separate labs to reproduce each other’s results.
- Limiting the total monetary value that is represented by each assay lot: It is in no one’s best interest to have too much monetary value within any one assay lot, because standard deviation and repeatability must always be taken into account. Laboratory accuracy does not increase simply because more money is at stake. Make sure that your precious metals refiner creates a larger number of small-value (for example, $500,000) assay lots rather than a lesser number of large-value lots.

The metals we call ‘precious’ were originally given that title based on their beauty and workability as jewellery. This made these metals highly sought after, which in turn made them valuable. They are still considered very valuable for these same reasons, but today there are much greater reasons to be mindful of PGM:

- Conservation (pollution control, wise management of natural resources): The automotive catalysts and the industrial filtration units that reduce emissions
- Energy (both creating energy and improving performance): Fuel cells, gasoline, jet fuels, even your spark plugs are platinum-tipped
- World Health (disease prevention and cure): Treatments, medical devices, and pharmaceutical products that contain PGM or are made using PGM.

Platinum group metals remain at the forefront, the absolute cutting edge, of all three of these crucial technologies. The application of long-term wisdom and meaningful innovation is always best for business, and as a result it is what is best for the society of mankind.  ν

This short article originally appeared in the 2020 ERTC Newspaper, produced by PTQ / DigitalRefining.

You can view the digital issue here - https://online.flippingbook.com/view/1029582

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