Date of this Version
Bleiwas, D.I., 2013, Potential for recovery of cerium contained in automotive catalytic converters: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2013–1037, 10 p.
Catalytic converters (CATCONs) are required by Federal law to be installed in nearly all gasoline- and diesel-fueled onroad vehicles used in the United States. About 85 percent of the light-duty vehicles and trucks manufactured worldwide are equipped with CATCONs (Ashok Kumar, Director, A–1 Specialized Services & Supplies, Inc., written commun. July 10, 2012). These vehicles include buses, cars, light- and heavy-duty trucks, and motorcycles. Many offroad vehicles, such as trail bikes and all-terrain recreational vehicles, are also equipped with CATCONs, but offroad vehicles are not addressed in this paper (Manufacturers of Emission Controls Association, 2008).
Portions of the CATCONs (called monoliths) are recycled for their platinum-group metal (PGM) content and for the value of the stainless steel they contain. The cerium contained in the monoliths, however, is disposed of along with the slag produced from the recycling process. Although there is some smelter capacity in the United States to treat the monoliths in order to recover the PGMs, a great percentage of monoliths is exported to Europe and South Africa for recycling, and a lesser amount is exported to Japan. There is presently no commercial-scale capacity in place domestically to recover cerium from the monoliths.
Recycling of cerium or cerium compounds from the monoliths could help ensure against possible global supply shortages by increasing the amount that is available in the supply chain as well as the number and geographic distribution of the suppliers. It could also reduce the amount of material that goes into landfills. Also, the additional supply could lower the price of the commodity. This report analyzes how much cerium oxide is contained in CATCONs and how much could be recovered from used CATCONs.