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Strategies for sustainable energy transition: Lessons from platinum group metals recycling

Transitioning to renewable energy technologies is paramount in curbing greenhouse gas emissions, with 75% of reductions expected from scaling up renewables like solar, wind and electric vehicles (EVs)—all reliant on critical metals.

However, the surging demand for these metals may lead to undersupply, jeopardizing the transition. Despite their scarcity, the recycling rates for many critical metals remain dismally low, with only a fraction being recycled, particularly in batteries and certain rare earths.

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In contrast, the platinum group metals (PGMs) industry boasts a mature recycling network, thanks to decades of industrial use and their high value, incentivizing recycling. Here’s what we can learn from the PGM industry to foster circularity in critical metals for the energy transition:

  1. Embrace an Open Circular Economy: Efficient recycling thrives on specialization and scale. Global PGM refiners operate large, centralized facilities, optimizing different capabilities and catering to diverse end-of-life materials. This global network fosters competition, resilience, and efficiency in PGM recycling.
  2. Closed Loops Enhance Efficiency: PGMs are recycled through open and closed loops. While both are effective, closed loops often result in lower losses due to better collection practices and value retention by the metal owner.
  3. Focus on Collection in Open Loops: Efficient recycling hinges on effective collection. Tailored policies may be needed to incentivize the collection of certain end-of-life materials, like iridium spark plug tips, to prevent valuable metals from ending up in landfills.
  4. Support Recycling as a Service: Facilitate recycling as a service within an open circular economy by adapting trade and taxation policies accordingly. Metal ownership should be retained for true circularity.
  5. Treat Recycling as Supply: Maximize the use of aboveground metal stocks through efficient recycling before considering additional extraction. Open-loop PGM recycling already diversifies supplies in many regions.
  6. Tailor Approaches for Each Metal: While overarching principles apply, tailored approaches may be necessary for different metals, technologies, and regions to maximize circularity.

By applying these insights from the PGM industry, we can advance circular economy practices in critical metals essential for the energy transition.

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