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Indaver recovers precious metals from pharmachem waste

Precious metals are not only used by the automotive industry, but also by pharmaceutical and chemical companies. Just think of palladium and rhodium in catalysts to make certain chemical reactions possible. Indaver has found a way to recover precious metals after use. Wouter Van Zundert, Indaver's Inda-MP Product Manager: "This is how we help to reduce the carbon footprint of the pharmaceutical and chemical industries and contribute to their sustainability objectives."

Inès Aoun | 14 januari 2022
20210707  Indaver Mp Installatie 069 3171 Lr
The Inda-MP installation at Antwerp.

The Inda-MP plant has been on Indaver's site in the port of Antwerp since 2019. The idea for the plant resulted from discussions Indaver had with European pharmaceutical companies. Kristof Saey, International Key Account Manager at Indaver: "We offer customers such as Pfizer total waste management. This means that we look for a financially and technically feasible solution for all the waste that they produce. Some of these customers asked us to develop technologies to recycle precious metals from specific liquid waste streams. These are the result from processes that use homogeneous catalysts (see below). With that question, I went to our business development department."

The Inda-MP installation at Antwerp

Wouter Van Zundert: "Coming up with a solution to recover precious metals from liquid waste streams is quite a challenge. The liquid in which the precious metal is dissolved can be flammable, toxic or corrosive. Because the precious metals are present in very low concentrations, efficient recovery is no easy task."

"The process we developed is efficient and safe. We manage to recover the precious metals to the maximum and return them to the customers, who can reuse them without any problem." Unwanted and harmful substances are safely destroyed. "Wherever possible, we recycle the solvents or convert them into energy in the form of steam via our Waste-to-Energy installations, says Van Zundert.

Becasue precious metals are extremely expensive many companies see the added value of recovery

Kristof Saey (Indaver)

CO2-neutral on several levels

But is it worth the effort? Saey: "Certainly, many companies see the added value of recovery. First of all, precious metals are extremely expensive. Palladium, for example, is worth about 50,000 euros per kilogram today and the market is very volatile. Because palladium, rhodium and platinum are mainly mined outside Europe, we are dependent on foreign countries. Reusing precious metals is therefore also good for the autonomy of the European economy."

In addition, the sustainability aspect plays an increasingly important role. Van Zundert: "If companies recover more metals, they reduce the pressure on primary raw materials. Moreover, primary precious metals mainly come from South Africa and Russia, and have a CO2 footprint of 25 to 30 tonnes of CO2 per kilogram. That is relatively high. Because the chemical and pharmaceutical sectors are urged to become climate-neutral in the future, many want to drastically reduce their CO2 emissions. Our Inda-MP installation contributes directly to achieving those ambitious goals."

The biggest challenge for the sector is scope 3 emissions. These are the indirect emissions created by suppliers and end users of the product. "By closing the precious metals loop, we are helping companies to tackle their greenhouse gas emissions through the supply chain as well."

Our Inda-MP installation contributes directly to achieving those ambitious goals

Wouter Van Zundert (Indaver)

Full relief and ambitions

Indaver recovers precious metals from liquid waste streams from pharmaceutical and chemical customers throughout Europe. "We take care of everything: from the transport via the port of Antwerp to the recovery and return of those metals." But the circular economy company wants to go even further. "We don't want to stand still and continue to invest in various technologies so that we can also offer a solution for the even more complex waste streams of the future."

Indaver 4 Ant Office 15882
Indaver's site at the port of Antwerp.

New chemistry

The pharmaceutical and chemical industries mainly use heterogeneous catalysts. Wouter Van Zundert: "Thanks to various innovations, the number of processes that use homogeneous catalysts has increased in recent years.

What are homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysts? Van Zundert: Homogeneous catalysts are specific organo-metallic compounds that are dissolved in a solvent and thus make certain chemical reactions possible. Heterogeneous catalysts, on the other hand, consist of metals applied to a solid, inert support and mainly occur as granules.

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