Metals and their alloys are valuable materials, which can be fully recycled without degrading their properties. In addition to the financial impetus, the environmental and social aspects are crucial. The recycling of metals enables us to preserve natural resources compared to metal production lines using only virgin raw materials. Recycling emits less carbon dioxide and other harmful gasses and requires less energy. More importantly, it is also economically more viable and provides businesses with solutions that offer reduced production costs.
SMS group is involved in this field in a variety of different areas. For example, metals and other valuable substances can be recovered from metal scrap, electronic waste, batteries, etc. In the past, large amounts of slag that still contained valuable metals were dumped. Old deposits can also contain valuable materials. When clearing and refurbishing these deposits, money can be earned not only from the value of the recovered materials, but also via the increased value of the refurbished property.
Worldwide, more than 40 million tons of waste from electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) are collected every year. Such material is a valuable source of metals and other materials. Considering the previously quite low collecting rates – approx. 45 % in the EU – this carries huge potential due to enhanced collection concepts. In most parts of the world, the collection rates are even lower. Professional recycling offers not only environmental benefits but also economic incentives.
The central component of SMS group’s WEEE recycling concepts is either the BlueSmelter and/or the top blown rotary converter (TBRC). Compared, the BlueSmelter can also handle lower-grade WEEE with higher organic contents. The concept of the BlueSmelter had been successfully demonstrated at an industrial size demonstration plant and resulted in a new generation bath smelting furnace, applying a high-speed SIS/injector. In these industrial-scale trials, various WEEE qualities were treated. The test confirmed high metal recovery rates and low emission levels (particularly for NOx). Furthermore, the SIS was also tested successfully in a range of 0–100 % with H2 as fuel. The flame characteristics (such as length, temperature) were quite similar, when using natural gas or H2 as a substitution.
The current design offers an annual capacity of 1,000–100,000 tons of e-scrap concentrate. It can be installed as a complete greenfield plant, or as a supplement to existing copper or nickel smelters using the existing infrastructure of the plant.
When high-grade WEEE material is available, the TBRC can be operated as the primary smelter and refiner, producing raw copper. SMS group is currently installing a WEEE recycling plant with one TBRC as a primary smelter near Moscow, Russia.
This plant is designed to process about 4,000 tons of printed circuit boards every year to LME/LBMA-grade metals, such as copper, nickel, silver, gold, and platinum. For future expansion, the installation of a BlueSmelter is being considered, to allow the processing of low-grade WEEE and to increase the overall plant capacity.
Fire refining furnaces
For the recycling of copper scrap, SMS group has developed a new generation of fire refining furnaces, thus opening up the possibility of producing anode copper and FRHC copper from copper scrap. Depending on the desired product quality, different materials may be used, such as copper scrap of grades 1 to 3 (e.g. birch/cliff). The fire refining furnaces used for the anode production line are either tilting refining furnaces (TRF) or elliptic tilting refining furnaces (ETRF), optionally expanded with a top blown rotary converter (TBRC).
Tilting refining furnaces are based on an improved scrap charging system and, optionally, semiautomatic skimming that keeps the operators at a safe distance from the molten metal. They are designed for the melting, refining, and casting of copper scrap in one flexible unit. The copper scrap is charged in the form of bales or loose scrap via the charging doors or injected as fines. Further, it is possible to charge liquid material via launders from the recycling of lower-grade material in a BlueSmelter or TBRC (top blown rotary converter). The units can also be offered “H2-ready”, enabling CO2-reduced copper production.
The tilting furnace is also used for FRHC (Fire-refined High-conductivity) copper production to partially replace cathodes via a fire-refined semi product. By combining the tilting refining furnace with a casting wheel, high-quality anodes are produced.
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Catalysts contain valuable metal components, which can be recycled in our BlueCAT process. The shredded catalysts are fed – together with reducing agents, collecting metals, and fluxes – into an electric smelter and are converted to slag and a PGM-containing metal bullion. The slag produced is further treated in a second electric furnace, which produces a sellable slag and a metal bullion. The metal bullion from both electric furnaces is then charged to a TBRC, where it is refined to a metal bullion containing more than 40 % PGM. This PGM-rich metal alloy can then be processed in a hydrometallurgical treatment plant.
The reserves of most high-grade ores are finite, and their future availability is critical. It is becoming of increasing importance and economic interest to be able to extract these metals from low-grade ores and secondary sources using tailored, bespoke processing routes – often representing combinations of mechanical, pyro-, and hydrometallurgical processes.
SMS group Process Technologies in Vienna/Austria develops advanced processes and plants for the extractive metallurgy of technology and battery metals, for the production of battery-grade chemicals and pigments, and for the recycling of waste batteries and WEEE. New processes and flow sheets are tested and verified in the company’s own laboratory and piloting facilities.
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