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Magazine6 Min

Aurubis and SMS group lead the way in multi-metal recycling

Construction site of the new multi-metal recycling plant in the U.S. of Aurubis (September 15, 2023).
Copyright of picture: Aurubis AG

Back in 2021, Aurubis AG and SMS group signed a landmark contract to join forces in a groundbreaking circular economy endeavor: to build the first multi-metal recycling plant in the U.S. At METEC 2023, we caught up with Aurubis COO Heiko Arnold and SMS group COO Michael Rzepczyk to see what's been happening and where the project and partnership stand in 2023.

Refresh our memories; what is the project's significance for the recycling industry, and why did Aurubis decide to embark on this ambitious undertaking?

Heiko Arnold: Most people know us as a producer of primary copper and other metals. But this project is about our strategic goal to become the leading multi-metal recycling player committed to sustainable metals production in the U.S. Aurubis is already processing around 1 million tons of recycling material annually. The Richmond plant will add another 180,000 tons per year.

Michael Rzepczyk: This aligns perfectly with our commitment to going beyond green steel towards our all-encompassing "turning metals green" strategy. The beauty of metals is that they can be recycled almost indefinitely without sacrificing quality. We have been working with metals for more than 150 years now - that experience and the products and process expertise we've been developing throughout that history are highly relevant to the business of recycling metals and sit at the core of the project with Aurubis.

Heiko Arnold: Exactly. That's why we partnered with SMS group. By combining your extensive plant know-how with our unique expertise in processing and in raw materials treatment, we are creating an environment for the highly efficient recovery of metals. With the new Richmond site, Aurubis is blazing the trail in the U.S.: The Georgia-based plant will be the first secondary smelter for multi-metal recycling. The project’s high strategic importance requires a well-balanced risk exposure. We're confident that with SMS group, we have a strong partner who can deliver. SMS has the local presence and experience in the U.S., and a successful track record working with Aurubis.


Undertaking such a vast project must mean you expect to make an equally significant impact with it.

Heiko Arnold: Yes, indeed. With our facility in Augusta, we aim to make a key contribution to building a true sustainable economy in the U.S. Today, most of the discarded circuit boards, cables, and other e-waste in the country are exported, landfilled, or not collected. Valuable raw materials are wasted. But like the rest of the world, the U.S. needs more and more mineral materials. Therefore, we must switch from the linear model of produce-consume-dispose to a circular model. An economy where products are kept in circulation for as long as possible. The concept of ‘urban mining’ accounts for more than 50 % of the current geological reserves and is a significant ‘resource on demand’. Moreover, recovering copper from recycling requires 80 to 85 % less energy than primary production. On top of that, recycling helps to achieve resource independence in regions that lack primary raw materials. In a nutshell: Recycling is the basis for a renewable and independent economy.

We are confident that Richmond will not be the first and last modular plant we are building – but that the project will serve as a blueprint for future projects.

Let's talk about the plant. I know Augusta as a famous golf tournament site. What made you decide it's a good place for a metals recycling plant?

Heiko Arnold: Apart from other factors, the Richmond site has a strategically advantageous location. It is centrally located in the Southeastern U.S., near the Port of Savannah, and close to key economic regions. A location that offers good logistics connections plus regional availability of recycling materials and an attractive energy supply. One of the most important selection criteria when choosing the Richmond County location was the skilled local workforce. The state of Georgia and Augusta-Richmond County strongly encourage job creation and gave us the necessary political support. In general, we are very pleased with the favorable local conditions and with the overall pro-business environment in the U.S.


So, how are things going on the construction site? I understand that a second stage was added to the project to bring the initially planned capacity of 90,000 tons of copper up to 180,000 tons.

Michael Rzepczyk: Absolutely, this is evolving into a massive project, and thanks to our culture of totally transparent collaboration, things have been working exceptionally well. Aurubis is very clear about their expectations, and we are entirely open about our progress. A lot of equipment is already on site, and so far, we're perfectly on track to commission stage one of the plant by mid of 2024. It's state-of-the-art equipment for processing complex recycling materials to recover raw materials like copper, nickel, tin, precious metals, and platinum group metals in additional downstream stages. These metals are crucial raw materials for the technologies of the future, like the energy transition, sustainable mobility, or digitalization. We anticipate the second stage to start production in 2025.

Heiko Arnold: We have jointly developed a unique modular design for the project. This means additional components can be added step by step, expanding the plant to meet future growth requirements and flexibly respond to market needs. The Aurubis Modular Recycling System enables us to build new capacities according to market demand and to integrate them seamlessly into our expanded smelter network. Combining additional capacity with maximum flexibility – for us, that’s the best strategy to approach a greenfield investment and the dynamically growing U.S. market. And we are confident that Richmond will not be the first and last modular plant we are building – but that the project will serve as a blueprint for future projects.

We at Aurubis are very excited about our progress at the Richmond site, our prospects on the North American market, and about our partnership with SMS group in taking recycling in the U.S. to the next level.

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