Recovery of Precious Metals in Spent Process Catalysts - Pharmaceutical Technology

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Recovery of Precious Metals in Spent Process Catalysts
Catalysts are important tools in the synthesis of active pharmaceutical ingredients. Recovery of precious-metal catalysts from a pharmaceutical manufacturing process is a factor in cost control and environmental compliance.


Pharmaceutical Technology


Environmental compliance

The working relationship between a pharmaceutical manufacturer and precious-metals refiner involves many legal and environmental responsibilities. Even though the spent catalyst materials will be handled by the refiner, and the PGMs will be recovered at the refiner's site, the pharmaceutical manufacturer is as much responsible for ensuring that all applicable environmental codes and standards for waste material disposal and atmospheric emissions are adhered to by the refiner. It is also possible to check that a refiner has an approved status with all applicable agencies at local, state, and federal levels. A reputable refiner will gladly share the appropriate documentation on its facility's legal and environmental adherence, including permits under the Clean Air and Water Acts.

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, commonly known as the Superfund Act, addresses the direct responsibility of a precious-metals refiner and its customers in the United States. The law requires that both the company that is the source of the materials for precious-metals recovery and the precious-metals refiner share in the responsibility as well as future liability for the proper treatment and/or disposal of any materials.

To ensure that a refiner offers an environmentally friendly operation, equipment used for contamination removal, such as thermal oxidation systems, should be properly equipped with properly scaled afterburners to ensure complete combustion of organic contaminates. A refiner should also use and properly maintain neutralizing equipment when liquid effluent is involved. The refiner's water-treatment process should minimize all causes of pollution. Any atmospheric discharge must be managed with pollution-control systems that result in little or no pollutants being emitted before, during, and after the precious-metals refining process. Any gases generated by the process should be passed through a scrubber system for environmental control.

Looking forward

The high value of Platinum Group Metals (PGMs) in spent catalysts requires manufacturers to work with a precious-metal refiner to recover as much of those PGMs as possible. Choosing a refiner is the same as choosing a partner. The manufacturer and the precious-metal refiner both stand to gain but also both hold responsibility for the processing steps required to recover the PGMs. Careful choice of the right refiner that meets specific selection criteria is therefore crucial.

Kevin Beirne is vice-president of sales and marketing at Sabin Metal Corporation, 300 Pantigo Place, Suite 102, East Hampton, NY 11937, tel. 732.244.1451, fax 732.244.2231,
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