Scrapping and Recycling Catalytic Converters

Apr 18, 2022 | Recycling

During the Great Recession, stories circulated about criminals stealing catalytic converters from automobiles. While this may seem to be an unusual crime, there was a reason why robbers chose this small component located within a car’s exhaust system. Catalytic converters are made up of various precious metals and may be sold on the black market for hundreds of dollars. These precious metals make catalytic converters ideal choices for recycling.

Catalytic converters serve a crucial purpose in your vehicle and contain valuable materials that might fetch a high price in the market. Recycling your old catalytic converter is the greatest way to guarantee that you get a fair price for it and that it is treated in the most environmentally friendly manner possible.

What are Catalytic Converters?

Automobiles make our lives easier, but the damage they cause to the environment is also widely known. Exhaust gases have major health and environmental consequences. These gases also cause air pollution. For the last 45 years, catalytic converters have been utilized to restrict toxic gas discharge into the environment substantially.

Eugene Houdry invented the catalytic converter around 1950 to scale down the environmental impact of toxic emissions from cars. With the growing global concern about the environment, it is imperative to establish that catalytic converters were made mandatory in the ‘70s for all car manufacturers to include while developing new cars.

During combustion, automobiles release three types of gases, including hydrocarbons (HC), carbon monoxide gas (CO), and nitrogen oxides (NOx). The catalytic converter installed in the vehicle’s exhaust system breaks down these gases into water vapor and less harmful carbon dioxide (CO2).

The catalytic converter contains metals that act as catalysts; they include rhodium, platinum, and palladium metals.

Research shows that the automobile industry is the biggest consumer of platinum group metals. The use of platinum group metals is becoming increasingly widespread as the world’s vehicle stock grows. Furthermore, the rise in the quantity of junk automobiles and the fact that each waste vehicle had a catalytic converter prompted recycling and recovery efforts.

Catalytic converters should last the life of the vehicle, but if the vehicle often backfires, they may need to be replaced sooner. Because of their metallic composition, replacements are costly.

Besides rhodium, palladium, and platinum, catalytic converters contain other metals, including nickel, copper, iron, cerium, and manganese. These metals are precious in the black market because they can be used to make electronics and jewelry as well as other industrial purposes.

Platinum Group Metals (PGMs)

The Platinum Group Metals (PGMs) comprises of:

  • Platinum (Pt)
  • Palladium (Pd)
  • Rhodium (Rh)
  • Osmium (Os)
  • Ruthenium (Ru)
  • Iridium (Ir)

Due to their importance in the industrial, electrical, medicinal, and most recently automotive businesses, these metals are in high demand in the marketplace. PGMs have recently been in the news because one of the most common domestic applications for these elements is catalytic converters, which reduce hazardous emissions from vehicles. The theft of these components is popular because of these highly valuable materials.

Due to its widespread usage in jewelry, platinum is arguably the most well-known of this group of metals. It’s thick, stable, and rare, commonly employed in medical and technological equipment.

Palladium is a silvery-white, soft metal with catalytic characteristics. It’s the lowest-melting and the least dense of all the PGMs. It doesn’t tarnish in the atmosphere at regular temperatures, which makes it good for use in jewelry in addition to its more common use in catalytic converters.

Iridium is the most corrosion-resistant pure metal. It’s also extremely dense and brittle. Those properties make it difficult to work with, which is why it’s usually heated up to very high temperatures in order to make it more workable.

Other Uses for PGMs

We already know that they’re some of the heavy lifters when it comes to catalytic converters, but they are also used in a variety of other applications.

PGMs are also employed as catalysts in the chemical industry to make nitric acid and in the petroleum refining sector to raise the octane rating of gasoline. Palladium is found in hybrid integrated circuits and multilayer ceramic capacitors. Both the automobile and aerospace sectors employ iridium in their spark plugs. Iridium crucibles are also used to make single crystals of exceptional purity of different metal oxides.

Platinum is used in jewelry to a lesser extent. Platinum and ruthenium are both utilized in the electronics sector to increase the memory capacity of computer hard drives. Glass-making machinery, such as that used to make fiberglass and LCD screens, contains platinum and platinum-rhodium alloys.

Platinum is also used in fuel cells, which are devices that generate energy by mixing a fuel, like a hydrogen, with oxygen from the air in the presence of an acid catalyst, like platinum. Vehicles and static power sources for homes and workplaces may benefit from fuel cells.

In the same way that gold and silver are used as investment metals, platinum and palladium are also available in bars and coins.

While chemical combinations of these two metals are desirable in a variety of alloy operations, rhodium and iridium are tougher and much more complex to deal with. Rhodium is a highly reflective metal that is valuable as a catalyst. It features a low electrical resistance as well as a low and consistent contact resistance.

Mining and Supplying PGMs

According to the most recent USGS data, global PGM resources are anticipated to be more than 100 million kilos. The Bushveld Complex in South Africa has the most resources.

South Africa, being the leading supplier of minerals and PGMs had its production falling by 11% in 2020 as opposed to other years. The decline was caused by various issues including the COVID-19 related lockdowns and the extremely high cost of electricity.

Recycling Catalytic Converters

Recycling companies make every effort to keep garbage out of landfills and to make sure many materials get reused. As a result, we feel that recycling should be done wherever viable, and catalytic converters are no exception; nevertheless, they provide additional advantages.

Used catalytic converters wind up in new and used vehicle dealers, automobile junkyards, muffler shops, and auto repair shops. If you work in one of these industries, you’re probably aware that each old converter includes around a tenth of an ounce of platinum, worth $1,000 per ounce or more.

The issue is that the platinum in your second-hand catalytic converters isn’t in tidy, tiny chunks that you can remove and sell. Platinum must be extracted and separated from the catalytic converter’s internal honeycomb by a recycling business using specialist equipment.

Why Do You Need to Recycle a Catalytic Converter?

  1. Preservation of Natural Resources

Mining metal ore and producing metals is a time-consuming and energy-intensive operation that involves significant mining, expensive procedures, and sometimes dangerous chemicals.

Platinum ore, for example, must be retrieved from deep tunnels, which requires a lot of drilling power, and a lot of ore is required for a substantial quantity of final platinum product. You might need to mine as much as 12 tons of ore to produce one troy ounce of platinum.

Platinum ore must be chemically processed once mined to get the metal. This is harmful to the environment and harmful to mining employees, who are often underpaid and compelled to work in dangerous conditions.

You may reduce the mining requirement for platinum and other precious metals by recycling your catalytic converter. For the environment, this is a tremendous victory.

  1. The High Value of Catalytic Converters

When you sell your catalytic converters to scrap metal dealers or recycling firms, you could be in for a considerable payday. Catalytic converters are often recycled for money due to their valuable components, unknowingly benefiting the environment.

The value of the platinum metal is growing over time. Its economic worth has never declined over the previous 20 years. As a result, the value of platinum is increasing on a daily basis. The price of platinum per gram is now more than $30. And that’s not even the most expensive component. Another PGM, palladium, is worth more than $70 per gram, but that’s nothing compared to rhodium. That PGM is worth more than $600 per gram these days. 

Keep in mind that these prices are somewhat volatile and do tend to fluctuate over time. However, the point remains — the PGMs in your catalytic converters are very valuable. 

How Do You Recycle Catalytic Converters?

Catalytic converters, like other materials, are graded and recyclable components separated after it is acknowledged at a materials recovery center. The metals may then be sent to recycling plants to be repurposed.

It is important to know the vehicle’s make, year, and model that a converter has been taken from. This knowledge will make it easy for you to find a buyer or for easy recycling purposes. This information will enable you to propose a reasonable quote. In addition, the details can enable you to know the value of the catalytic converter by searching online.

Some scrap yards are keen to check on the information outside the shell of the catalytic converter for an accurate quote. Selling your catalytic converter for scrap value will require you to know whether it is aftermarket or an original one. An original catalytic converter will fetch a higher price for scrap value, while the aftermarket will fetch much less. The reason for the difference in prices is that the aftermarket catalytic converters have fewer precious metals inside as compared to the original one.

It’s crucial to remember that you shouldn’t try to remove catalytic converters and their components. Even if your automobile is junk, removing the catalytic converter’s metal components may be difficult and risky.

When you tamper with the mesh-like structure inside the catalytic converter, the scrap yard will be unable to identify the type of the catalytic converter you are selling for recycling. This honeycomb, whose function is to filter exhaust fumes before passing through precious metals, acts as the housing. When you keep the honeycomb, the scrap yard will identify the vehicle it is from and pay the required amount.

In addition, it is imperative to acknowledge that catalytic converters are designed so that the metals are not harmful when left undisturbed. Nevertheless, when they are opened, the ceramic bricks are exposed, and they are considered hazardous. As a result, it’s vital to leave it to the professionals who have the necessary expertise and safety equipment.

Taking catalytic converters to a scrap metal yard or metal recycling provider or arranging for pickup is the safest and most efficient method to recycle them.

The Recycling Process

Step 1

Acquiring the catalytic converters from suppliers and dealers.

Step 2

Taking the used catalytic converters through the de-canning process. This process is arguably the most efficient in ensuring that stainless steel or steel housing is reclaimed.

The recyclers can recover 100% of all metals in the catalytic converter through the process. The convertor is conveyed hydraulically to a shear mill which pulverizes the scrap core. These small pieces land on a shaker table where a heavy magnet is used to separate between the ferrous and nonferrous metals.

The magnetic materials are picked by up the magnet and taken to a scrap steel holding zone for shipment to a steel mill. The steel is repurposed into new steel products at the mills, ready for the market.

Step 3

The honeycomb or the ceramic block is sucked by an air separator and carried in small solid pieces to the large holding packages.

Step 4

These holding packages containing precious metals are sold to a refinery that is purposely designed for recycling catalytic converters. Before smelting, the materials are crushed further into smaller bits. The furnace used for smelting is set at 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit and operates for 12 hours.

The smelting process separates ceramics and non-metallic components from the main precious metals. Once the nonferrous metal content is removed, the precious metals are cooled and solidified. At this stage, a chemical separation process is applied to deliver pure palladium, platinum, and rhodium.

Step 5

This step involves selling purified precious metals to different industries and manufacturers. Records indicate that 80% of the precious recycled metals are sold back to the auto manufacturing industries. Others are shipped to manufacturing companies dealing with nylon and synthetic rubber, missile parts as conductors and jet engines, and other jewelry and consumer electronics.

It is imperative to indicate that catalytic converters will remain precious across the world for the next several years — until the auto manufacturers fully shift to electric vehicles.