Choosing the Right Refiner For Recovery of Precious Metals from Spent Catalyst

chemical catalyst recovery

In pharmaceutical manufacturing, catalysts are crucial in synthesizing active pharmaceutical ingredients. The recovery of precious metal catalysts from spent catalysts is essential for cost control and environmental compliance. This article explores the process of chemical catalyst recovery of precious metals, focusing on Platinum Group Metals (PGMs), such as platinum, palladium, ruthenium, and rhodium.

The Importance of Catalysts in Pharmaceutical Processing

Catalysts expedite chemical reactions in pharmaceutical processing, enhancing the synthesis of active ingredients or intermediates. Spent catalysts, particularly those containing PGMs, must be efficiently recovered to control manufacturing costs.

Catalysts and Their Supports

Precious-metal catalysts are often supported on carriers, with carbon supports being the most common in the pharmaceutical industry. Catalysts like heterogeneous palladium on carbon, platinum on carbon, palladium on alumina, and palladium on calcium carbonate facilitate the hydrogenation of intermediates. Once these catalysts are spent, the recovery of PGMs becomes imperative.

Precious-Metal Recovery and Refining Process

The chemical catalyst recovery and refining process for precious metals involves intricate procedures, including materials documentation, contamination removal, sampling, assaying, recovery, refining, processing turnaround time, and environmental considerations.

The effectiveness of a refiner in executing these functions determines the amount of PGMs recovered, the turnaround time and the value returned to the pharmaceutical manufacturer.

Selection Criteria for a Precious-Metal Refiner

Selecting the right precious metal refiner recovery for chemical catalysts is crucial. Factors such as equipment, sampling techniques, and environmental compliance should be considered. Refiners use various equipment, including furnaces, kilns, roasters, and various instruments for sampling and assaying.

Sampling Techniques

Precious-metal refiners employ three main sampling techniques: dry sampling, melt sampling, and solution sampling. Dry sampling, often used for catalysts based on carbon, involves thermal oxidation and grinding the spent catalyst into smaller particles. Melt sampling and solution sampling reduce spent catalysts into slurries and liquid solutions, respectively, for accurate determination of precious metals content.

Handling Practices and Assays

Proper handling practices involve certified weighing, tracking, and documentation of spent catalyst materials by the refiner. Assays, performed independently by both the refiner and the pharmaceutical manufacturer, determine the precious metals content in the samples. Assays use specialized instruments for materials analysis, ensuring accurate measurements.

Environmental Compliance

The relationship between a pharmaceutical manufacturer and a precious metal refiner entails legal and environmental responsibilities. The manufacturer must ensure the refiner adheres to environmental codes and standards during chemical catalyst recovery. Documentation on the refiner’s legal and environmental compliance, including permits under the Clean Air and Water Acts, should be verified.


The high value of PGMs in spent catalysts emphasizes the need for manufacturers to collaborate with reputable precious metal refiners. Choosing the right refiner is akin to choosing a partner, and both parties share responsibilities for the recovery process. Thus, careful consideration of selection criteria is vital for a successful and environmentally friendly recovery of precious metals.

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