Catalytic converter recycling in the UK and Europe

In a previous post I looked at the size of the catalytic converter recycling market globally, in terms of both the amount of precious metal recovered and their cash value.

To save you the hassle of reading that post again, the key takeaways were:

  • The total Pt + Pd + Rh recovered globally from scrap cats is about 8 million ounces
  • With a value of about $2.4 billion / £1.9 billion / €3 billion, annually.

Many may agree that catalytic converter recycling is a reasonably sized global market, and in this post I zoom in a bit to have a look at the market in Europe and Great Britain as it was in 2014, which is the latest data available.

This time I will keep it brief, though again the important info to consider for catalytic converter recycling are the number of vehicles on the road, the number of end-of-life-vehicles (ELVs) scrapped per year, and the amounts of precious metals recovered.

So let’s kick off with number of vehicles on the road.

Vehicles on the road, GB & EU

Germany takes top spot with close on 48 million vehicles on the road, followed Italy, France and the UK on around 37,000,000. You can see the rest on the graph below. Total vehicles on the road in the EU (+UK): about 295 million, which is a touch more than in the States.

So, lots of vehicles (and therefore cats) on the road. That’s great to know for some time in the future catalytic converter recycling, but that doesn’t do us much good for now; the average wait until end-of-life in the EU is somewhere between about 7 and 11 years, depending where you are.

So then, what about ELVs per annum?

End-of-life vehicles GB & EU

Here the tables are turned and the UK takes pole position, clocking in at around 1,100,0000 vehicles scrapped in 2014, slightly ahead of France, and quite some away ahead of the others. Germany (with most vehicles on the road) only scraps about half of the UK total. I could spend time banging on about the disconnect between number of vehicles on the road and the number scrapped in different countries (average vehicle age, maybe?), but that’s likely to keep very few readers riveted. What we are really interested in for catalytic converter recycling is the number of cats coming off the road annually, which for the whole EU + UK is around 6.3 million!  Looked at another way, on average for every 50 vehicles on European roads, 1 is scrapped every year.

At this point I want to throw another dataset into the mix: the total tonnage for catalytic converter recycling from ELVs in the EU is around 11,500 tonnes! That’s about the same mass as 140,000 average blokes, enough to pack Wembley out more than 1.5 times!

What is not entirely clear though is whether this tonnage is just the decanned matrix, or the whole cat. The data (and the resulting graph, below) is based on data published by the European Commission, so I have little reason to doubt it, but if anyone has any further insights I’d much appreciate hearing from you.

Catalytic converter tonnage, GB & EU

We’ll take the data with a pinch of salt until there is some clarity, but in the meantime this geographical distribution of the catalytic converter tonnages recycled looks like it may be based on smelter / refinery locations. Perhaps, and read into that what you will, but what took me by surprise is how far ahead of the pack France is, nearly triple that of Germany, and about 5x that of the UK’s 1,140,000 kg!

Moving on, let’s now dig a bit deeper elsewhere by looking at the data of platinum group metals (PGM) recovered from catalytic converter recycling in 2014 (see here for a more detailed post and some 2015 data).

Turns out that some 908,000 oz of PGM was recovered from scrap catalytic converters in Europe in 2014, graphically shown below.

Catalytic converter recycling PGM GB & EU

At today’s metal prices, that works out at about $820,000,000 / £656,000,000 / €775,000,000.

What is not apparent at this stage is just how much of this actually originated in Europe, because as we know some of this stuff is shunted around the planet like crazy, depending on where can get best treatment and refining terms.

I’ll leave it at that for now, though in case you’re wondering what the point of this post is, it is part of an analysis for the future of the global catalytic converter recycling industry in the face of what are likely to be some seriously disruptive developments.

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