The downturn in oil prices has caused many refiners to look at areas of the business where efficiency could be increased and / or savings made.

One of the areas under scrutiny is catalyst turnaround, including the loading of the new catalyst, discharge and recycling of the spent catalyst.

The recycling of spent catalyst is an area that for a long period of time had kept a very low profile. Metal prices were favourable and although returns were small in comparison to earnings from oil production, the spent material had a positive value, buyers were readily available and the disposal of the spent catalyst was not a cause for concern. However the importance of environmentally sound recycling options has grown significantly in recent years due to the pressure both legislatively and environmentally. National and international requirements for spent catalyst generators have forced refiners to comply with increasingly restrictive legislation.

This situation has now been exacerbated by the downturn in the metal markets worldwide. For example, from 2003 until 2013 the price of Molybdenum, the main metal of value in HDS catalyst, remained above $10 per lb, peaking at over $45 per lb in 2004.

But since the end of 2013 the price has fallen to below $ 5 per lb and despite the recent recovery to above $8 per lb the future remains unclear. The major usage for Molybdenum is in the steel industry and due to the downturn in the steel market, particularly in China, supply far outstrips demand and until the industry recovers prices are likely to remain low. At these low prices we have recently witnessed a number of spent catalyst recycling facilities being unable to make a profit and choosing to exit the market. In some cases the decision has been to mothball their facilities in the hope of re-entering the market at a later date but others have been forced into permanent closure. Spent catalyst has gone from being an easily traded by-product to something of little or no value leaving refiners with fewer and fewer options and even having to consider landfill rather than recycling.

In our opinion there should only be one answer – recycling. In a world of declining natural resources, sustainable resource management through recycling must be the chosen path wherever possible. We understand that landfilling what in most cases is a classified hazardous waste, may in the short term save some costs but it can also have a negative impact on the industry, particularly if an acceptable recycling alternative is available. But how can the refiner make an informed decision if they are not in possession of all the facts required to make the decision and do not have the necessary know-how to act upon it? We believe that the solution is to partner with a company whose business is not oil refining but is in recycling and who have the knowledge, experience and understanding required.

We at London Chemicals & Resources Ltd have over 10 years’ experience of offering generators of spent catalyst customised solutions for their spent catalyst.

By looking at each case on an individual basis and taking into account key factors such as geographical location, chemical analysis, material classification, corporate requirements, packing and shipping requirements, an informed decision can then be made regarding the best possible recycling route.

For example, if we take the case of a 500 M/T parcel of HDS catalyst arising from a refinery in North America we can assume that the material is classified as K-List hazardous waste. The options available to the generator include landfill / processing at a facility in the USA / pre-processing in USA prior to export / pre-processing / processing outside USA but within OECD.

We would look for the best available recycling option that while being commercially competitive was also environmentally sound.

There are many generators that up until now would rather landfill within the USA rather than export but we feel that the refiners should not ignore this route to recycling. Under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme, controls are already in place within the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal to allow recycling to take place anywhere within the OECD subject to pre-informed consent between the exporting and importing countries. Knowing how to work within this legislation is the key to opening up alternative recycling solutions outside of the USA.

One of our preferred recycling partners is Full Yield Industry Co Ltd (FYI) in Taiwan who, founded in 1981, were pioneers in recovering metals from spent catalyst generated at oil refineries. Having remained in operation through the highs and very lows of the metal markets they have achieved an enviable reputation in the global recycling market.

Full Yield’s high purity chemicals are consumed in a processing route consisting of thermal treatment followed by a wet metallurgical process. The system has been designed to be environmentally friendly and wherever possible feed materials are 100% recycled. They have been successfully audited by some of the world’s best known oil refiners.

The final products being high purity chemicals consumed in many industries including the production of batteries, fertilisers, special alloys and the production of new catalyst thereby completing the recycling loop.

London Chemicals & Resources Ltd can offer the following to generators of spent catalyst:

  • Customised recycling solutions for spent catalyst
  • Commercially competitive options with an emphasis on environmentally sound management
  • All logistics / transportation can be arranged ex the generators facility
  • A thorough knowledge of international legislation for the movement of hazardous and non- hazardous waste
  • Recycling at fully licenced facilities
  • Certificates of recycling /consumption
  • An experienced, multilingual and knowledgeable team

Before oil refiners make a decision regarding the disposal of spent catalyst we urge them to look at all the available options and to choose recycling wherever possible.

For further information please contact:
London Chemical & Resources Limited
General: +44 (0)20 7183 0651 or
+44 (0)20 7987 7600

Direct – Paul Mcdonald:
+44 (0)20 7042 1158