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    Recovering vanadium from spent vanadium catalyst has great market potential
    ----Interview with Richard Bartholomew​
    General Manager
    London Chemicals & Resources Ltd
    London Chemicals & Resources Limited (LCR) was established in 2005 at an office located near to Tower Bridge in London. The company purchases various non-ferrous secondaries and spent catalyst to produce ferroalloys, intermediates and chemicals. The company now focuses more on sales of molybdenum and vanadium chemicals.

    Asian Metal: Hi Richard, thank you for the interview with Asian Metal. Please give us a brief introduction about London Chemicals & Resources Ltd.

    Richard : Thank you for your invitation and a pleasure talking to Asian Metal! London Chemicals & Resources Limited (LCR) was established in 2005 at an office located near to Tower Bridge in London. The company has grown and diversified and today we are 10 highly experienced people based in Westerham on the outskirts of London. Our business is international and mostly involves two complementary areas and an elegant recycling loop. We buy various non-ferrous secondaries in the form of ashes, concentrates, drosses, muds, residues, sludges and in particular spent catalysts. Our sources are the oil and gas industries, petrochemicals, plating and various others. These secondaries contain cobalt, copper, molybdenum, nickel, tungsten, vanadium and zinc. Working with various processing plants around the world, we arrange for some of them to be processed into ferro-alloys, intermediates and chemicals which we buy back and resell to the same industries. Our main area is vanadium and molybdenum chemicals and these are sold directly to catalyst and chemical producers as well as distributing to smaller buyers from our warehouse in Rotterdam.

    Asian Metal: What are the main vanadium products handled by LCR at present? What market areas are covered?

    Richard : In terms of our main vanadium products, London Chemicals & Resources handles ammonium metavanadate, vanadium pentoxide powder and high purity flake, potassium metavanadate (solid and solutions), vanadyl oxalate, vanadyl sulphate and ferrovanadium. We deal worldwide with these and other items both directly and through our offices and international network.

    Asian Metal: We know that in the field of vanadium extraction, the most commonly used raw materials are vanadium titano-magnetite and stone-coal. What’s the current development level of vanadium extraction market with spent vanadium catalyst?

    Richard: Its well known that a fairly significant quantity of vanadium products come from the recycling of spent catalysts. These catalysts have mostly been used by the oil refinery industry and when their efficiency deteriorates, a refinery either puts into landfill or sends to a processor. Too much is still sent to landfill in the opinion of London Chemicals & Resources however spent catalyst processors worldwide still produce something in the region of 20,000mt/year of V2O5 containing products. New or increased capacity, particularly in the USA and SE Asia, will see this figure increase by at least another 5,000 - 10,000mt/year over the next 5 years. Despite the amazing growth of EVs, oil is still needed for power stations, petrochemicals and internal combustion engines (including jet engines) among others. As part of the oil sweetening process, fresh catalysts are employed particularly for the removal of sulphur (SOx) and de-metallisation. London Chemicals & Resources would like to see an international ban on land filling these particular catalysts after they become spent and in particular, all vanadium catalysts should routinely be sent to processors after they have reached end of use in a refinery reactor.

    Asian Metal: Where are the production and consumption of spent vanadium catalyst located mainly? What’s the scale of your company's business in this product?

    Richard: These catalysts come from all over the world and of course it’s the leading oil refining companies who are main generators. There are many spent catalyst processors around the world with fairly heavy concentrations in China, Europe, S-E Asia and the USA. London Chemicals & Resources limited deals regularly with several of these plants and we have direct and indirect relationships with many others. Typically our turnover is around 5,000–10,000mt of spent vanadium containing catalyst per year. A fairly significant quantity of vanadium products come from the recycling of spent catalysts. Content varies but typically keeps at around 15% V2O5. Refineries have to dispose their catalyst within a set time frame under local EPA regulations. There is no doubt that we would see a tightening global legislation to curb sulphur levels in oil, so recovering vanadium from spent vanadium catalyst has great market potential.

    Asian Metal: Is the cost of vanadium extraction from spent vanadium catalyst competitive with traditional raw ore vanadium extraction?

    Richard: I think a lot of people get confused here and mistakenly think that catalyst processing companies are more expensive than traditional primary or co-product sources. A mine has fixed extraction and processing costs but this is very different in the case of catalysts. An oil refinery can sell their spent catalyst, give it away or pay for it to be processed and this depends a lot on international prices for vanadium. The major refineries are nearly all forced to dispose of their catalyst within a set time frame (usually 3 months) under local EPA regulations. Unless these catalysts can be regenerated (not usually in the case of vanadium containing types), they either go to landfill – which is very polluting and can be expensive or sent to a catalyst processor. Catalyst processors are frequently paid twice – firstly by the refinery who simply needs to get rid of the catalyst and then for their final vanadium and other products. Not something that any primary mine or co-producer could ever contemplate! In fact, at times of low metal prices, this situation is not at all unusual in the USA and Europe.

    Asian Metal: What are the main downstream products for vanadium extraction from spent vanadium catalyst? Is the quality reliable?

    Richard: It’s possible to produce all of the same final chemical and metallurgical vanadium based products and grades using spent catalysts. In addition, the catalyst contains interesting levels of molybdenum and nickel too and these can also be used to produce valuable final products. Purity and reliability are responsibility of the processing plant. Of course it’s much easier to produce V2O5 flake 98%min and FeV for the metallurgical industry rather than high purity vanadium chemicals for the niche chemical and battery industries. Most catalyst processing plants concentrate on supplying the metallurgical industry which is the main market and responsible for >90% of all demand.

    Asian Metal: Spent vanadium catalyst is listed as hazardous waste management category in China, and the import & export is restricted. How is the circulation situation in the international vanadium market?

    Richard: The decision is specific to the EPA of each country in the world and mostly spent vanadium catalyst is categorized as a hazardous waste. This is where the business becomes much more complicated. Government to government prior informed consent is required when shipping hazardous waste for recycling, complex trans-frontier documentation needs to be completed, special packaging and transportation arrangements are involved and various other factors. Above all, the processing plants must have a government approved license for this type of waste. This is why there are not many more spent catalyst processing plants in the world.

    Asian Metal: How do you view the market development potential of spent vanadium catalyst for vanadium extraction?

    Richard: For the reasons above, I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly easy market. However there is no doubt that ever tightening global legislation to curb sulphur levels and particularly metal impurities in oil products will mean increasing requirements for fresh catalysts. At the same time, demand is being boosted by the refining of poorer grades and heavy oils as well as relatively “new” oil tar sands. There are just two choices for the spent vanadium catalyst coming from refineries handling these – landfill or sending to a processing facility.

    Asian Metal: What is your company's market development plan in the field of spent vanadium catalyst in the next 3 years?

    Richard: We are continuing to grow and have a new office in Mumbai as well as strengthening our operations in S-E Asia and elsewhere. In Europe, we are joint owners of a completely new catalyst processing plant in Spain which has just come on line. Meanwhile we work to improve existing relationships and contact more refineries offering our specialised services. At the same time, the chemicals team here continues work with the processors – successfully selling their final products worldwide. London Chemicals will be increasing its UK team to cope with this and in three years we envisage being double our present size in terms of turnover and personnel.

    Asian Metal: Thanks for sharing!

    Richard: Thanks for Asian Metal professional information platform.
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