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Platinum comes full circle

technology report online, April 2015

Heraeus’s precious metals cycle is a prime example of sustainable resource utilization.

precious metals cycle
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For years, mines have not produced enough precious metal to meet growing demand from the automotive, jewelry, glass and chemical industries. Accordingly, it is very important to recycle these metals.

While this goal is still a long way off for many material flows in our society, Heraeus has long implemented a sustainable precious metals cycle for recycling valuable and scarce precious metals such as platinum. It should also be noted that it takes up to 100 times less energy to extract platinum through recycling, as compared with extracting the same amount through mining.

The „Cradle to Cradle“ concept

In its recycling, Heraeus concentrates primarily on the precious metals in industrial catalysts. The recovery rate for precious metals extracted by recycling these materials can far exceed 90 percent, depending on the material. Experts refer to this as a nearly closed material cycle, which is to say that almost everything that goes into a product in the first place finds its way back into the precious metals or material cycle. Only a small quantity of valuable resources is lost, in keeping with the principle of “Cradle to Cradle.”

Background: Precious metals

Precious metals are very rare, and thus also very valuable. Mines produce more than 20,000 tons of silver and only about 2,500 tons of gold annually. Platinum group metals are even rarer: Altogether, approximately 500 tons of these metals are extracted worldwide from primary sources and by recycling automotive catalysts. The amount of platinum obtained each year—around 240 tons—would easily fit in a garage.

These small amounts are in stark contrast to the essential role played by precious metals in our everyday lives. Modern cars would not run without them, computers would not work, there would be no flat screen televisions, and major portions of the chemical industry would not exist. The glass and oil industries would also face considerable difficulties – and we would even have to live without a cold ale.

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