How does Ecotrade test the PGM content of each catalytic converter?

Testing the platinum group metals (PGM) content in catalytic converters is a complex and challenging process that requires expertise and specialized equipment. The composition of catalytic converters varies due to factors such as different vehicle models, legislation, and changing ratios over time, making the testing process more intricate.

Recyclers commonly offer toll refining services, where scrap catalyst suppliers contract the refining of PGMs for a fee. Companies that buy based on toll refining will assess the value of a load of scrap catalysts by comparing the total weight of processed ceramic (following de-canning and crushing) with the laboratory analysis on a sample of that ceramic. Toll refining encompasses the entire process of PGM extraction and purification, ensuring that the refined material remains under the suppliers' ownership. Within toll refining, specific procedures called sampling and assaying are conducted to accurately determine the PGM content.

Ecotrade specializes in offering expert solutions for PGM content assessment, employing cutting-edge technology to simplify the process. Our advanced handheld XRF (X-ray fluorescence) device is a non-destructive analytical instrument that utilizes X-ray fluorescence technology. It accurately identifies and quantifies the elements within a sample by measuring the secondary X-ray emissions produced when the sample is excited by primary X-rays. Additionally, we utilize ICP analysis, which is even more accurate and employs emission spectrometry to identify each element in the samples.

Sampling and assaying procedures are critical for determining the value of PGM content. Incorrect formulation during these processes can result in the under or over-valuation of the metal content. Reputable companies, including us, often allow customers or their agents to witness the processing and provide samples for independent analysis, demonstrating our commitment to accuracy and transparency in the testing process.

3 factors that determine the true value of the PGMs in any one catalytic converter:

  1. The percentage of precious metals built into the catalyst, which varies based on the engine type and auto model
  2. The costs associated with the extraction of the precious metals, with both the recycler and the refining company making charges for their stages of the extraction process 
  3. The value of the precious metals at any one particular point in time, which can vary significantly due to the fluctuations in the commodities markets.


How do we price your catalytic converters?

At Ecotrade, we sample and analyze catalysts individually on a daily basis to keep providing the most accurate data possible.

Being thorough as we are, we rely on our own data before any other catalog and we offer ICP and XRF analysis capability in-house in order to let our customers do their own check.
PPM content (and therefore pricing) can also vary between 2 exact same models of catalyst for various reasons :

  • Country where it has been manufactured
  • Local environmental regulations
  • Year of production
  • Climate (frost or arid)

Having taken this also into account, over-reliance on catalog prices can make you blind to other considerations such as altered/fake material, limited series with different ppm content.

There are several factors that can lead to potential losses in the recovery of PGMs.

  1. The age of the catalyst and vehicle usage - Continuous exposure to high temperatures, chemical reactions, and physical stress can cause the catalyst materials to degrade over time, resulting in the loss of metals from the catalyst substrate.
  2. Improper Handling or Installation - Mishandling or improper installation of the catalytic converter can cause damage to the internal components, leading to the loss of metals.
  3. During the dismantling, storage, and transportation stages - Sometimes the “honeycomb” may become damaged or broken which can result in some losses.
  4. Moisture - Moisture analysis is crucial in the PGM recycling industry due to its significantly impact analysis results and potentially falsifying them. By analyzing and accounting for moisture content, it is possible to calibrate the XRF instrument accurately and obtain reliable and precise results. 

We strive to provide representative estimations of the PGM content, which can be checked through our app. However, it's important to acknowledge that these factors can introduce deviations in the results. Therefore, to ensure the utmost accuracy and fairness for our customers, we typically test each catalytic converter individually for the most precise assessment and pricing.


Differences between the different types of cats 

Different types of catalytic converters should be analyzed separately due to their distinct characteristics. There are essentially five main types:

  1. Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) Ceramic Converters: These converters, which make up the majority (about 95%) of all auto catalysts, use cordierite ceramic as the base material and are wash-coated with precious group metals (PGMs) like platinum, palladium, and rhodium. They have the highest loadings of precious metals.

  2. Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) Metal Converters: Similar to OEM ceramic converters, these converters are also manufactured by the original equipment makers but use stainless steel as the base material. They are wash-coated with PGMs and account for approximately 5% of converters. However, they require different recycling processes compared to ceramic converters.

  3. Diesel Particulate Filters (DPFs): DPFs can be categorized as either "high-grade" or "low-grade." High-grade DPFs contain sufficient PGM content for profitable recovery, while low-grade DPFs have higher recycling costs than the returns generated. Smelting companies face challenges with high-grade DPFs due to the presence of silicon carbide, resulting in higher recycling fees.

  4. Aftermarket Converters: These converters offer cheaper alternatives to OEM replacements when a catalytic converter fails. They are made of the same cordierite ceramic base material but have significantly reduced PGM content, often as much as 90% less.

  5. Bead Converters: Primarily used in light-duty trucks, bead converters have low levels of PGMs, similar to aftermarket converters. Due to their low PGM loading and limited availability for recycling, they are typically processed separately.

The issue of separation arises because Diesel Particle Filters (DPF) and Catalytic Converters (CCC) have different compositions. DPFs are made of silicon carbide, while catalytic converters are made of ceramic. As a result, their fusion properties differ, making it challenging to mix them together for processing. Sampling companies that work closely with various refiners can provide better service by dividing mixed batches within their network to optimize the metal return rate and obtain the best offers.