Aurubis has announced that it will build a state-of-the-art recycling plant at its Beerse site – previously Metallo – in Belgium. The new plant will process copper anode sludge using a hydrometallurgical process to rapidly extract a variety of metals including tin.

Currently, the Beerse plant processes some 250,000 tonnes of multi-metal scrap annually. The Beerse location primarily deals with complex scrap sources and produces a variety of end products including copper anodes, nickel briquettes, and tin ingots. In 2020, Metallo produced some 8,100 tonnes of refined tin.

The major focus of the Aurubis group is copper recycling. As metals recycling becomes more complex, more secondary copper will be produced from waste electronics (e-waste). This source is extremely complex, with a high content of copper, gold, and tin. Currently, the metals from e-waste are separated, and then melted down to form a 95% copper anode. This contains tin and precious metal impurities, and must be refined electrolytically. During this refining process, which upgrades the anode to >99% copper, the impurities are enriched in an “anode sludge”.

The “Advanced Sludge Processing by Aurubis” (ASPA) plant will focus on extracting precious metals and tin from the sludge produced from the existing processes at Beerse, as well as from Aurubis’ Lünen site in Germany. “We have been working on perfecting the ASPA process for more than three years,” says Dirk Vandenberghe, Managing Director in Beerse. “This is a special and very important project for us, because it enables us to extract more valuable metals from the same intermediate product and the whole thing even faster than before.”

Aurubis will invest some €27 million into the ASPA plant. Detailed planning and the approval process for the plant are underway, with construction planned for the second quarter of 2022. The company aims to begin commissioning at the beginning of 2024.

Our view: It is clear that more must be done to reduce the impact of Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE). At the same time, ‘green’ pressure from investors and end users are pushing downstream companies towards using more recycled tin, in a market that will likely require greater supply in the future. Aurubis’ investment into the ASPA process and plant goes some way towards providing a solution for these issues.