Aurubis Beerse Belgium
Photo courtesy of Aurubis

Aurubis to build new facility to recycle anode sludge

The plant, to be built in Beerse, Belgium, will use a hydrometallurgical process.

Aurubis, a leading global provider of nonferrous metals and one of the largest copper recyclers in the world, has announced that it is building a hydrometallurgical recycling facility at its Beerse site in Belgium.

At the new Advanced Sludge Processing by Aurubis (ASPA) facility, anode sludge, a valuable intermediate product from electrolytic copper refining, from the company’s recycling sites in Beerse and Lünen, Germany, will be processed. The new process will enable faster extraction of more precious metals, such as gold and silver, as well as tin from the anode sludge, according to Aurubis.

Aurubis acquired the site in Beerse when it purchased the Metallo Group from the investment firm TowerBrook Capital Partners in 2020. This site processes about 250,000 tons of multimetal scrap annually, ranging from complex residues to higher grade scrap types, producing metals, metal products and minerals, the company says.

Since the acquisition of the Metallo Group, Aurubis says it has further expanded its role as one of the world’s leading copper recyclers, processing roughly 1 million tons annually.

“Metal recycling is a core business area for Aurubis,” Heiko Arnold, chief operating officer of Aurubis AG, which is headquartered in Hamburg, Germany, says. “This is how we contribute significantly to the circular economy.”

He adds, “With ASPA, our production in Beerse is becoming faster, more efficient and with less valuable metal loss. The new facility is also a prime example of the synergies created by the acquisition of Metallo and how the whole company benefits in developing new innovative solutions together. ASPA uses the in-house recycling know-how of the Beerse plant and grafts it into the processes of other Aurubis plants.”

“We have been working on perfecting the ASPA process for more than three years,” Dirk Vandenberghe, managing director for Beerse, says. “This is a special and very important project for us because it allows us to get more valuable metals out of the same intermediate product and to do it faster than before.

“The newly developed hydrometallurgical process significantly increases the valorization of valuable metals, such as tin and precious metals. “There will be more metals that can be reused. For us, this is the circular economy at its best,” he adds.

Aurubis says it is investing 27 million euros in the project at Beerse. Detailed engineering and approval processes for ASPA are underway. The start of construction for the facility is planned for the second quarter of 2022 and the commissioning for early 2024.

 “We are leveraging synergies, strengthening and securing the Beerse site with ASPA. We are creating new jobs and increasing the plant’s importance for the whole group,” Arnold says. “Its central geographical position between the involved sites enables us to keep the transport distance of the intermediates low.”

Metal recycling is becoming increasingly complex, according to Aurubis, as the number of metals used in discarded electronic consumer goods has risen, and the design of these devices is becoming more intricate. Therefore, the company says, sustainably valorizing metals from this end-of-life material stream requires special recycling skills and investment in research and development.

“ASPA is taking metal recycling to the next level,” Arnold says. “We combine efficiency and speed to get even more out of it. It’s a complex process. However, recycling as many components as possible and harnessing the potential of ‘urban mining’— which means using the city as a raw material depot—for scrap metal is crucial to closing  the waste loop and catering to the increased demand for metals in a resource-efficient way.”