Leading minor and precious metals recycler, Belgium-headquartered Umicore, has discontinued rhenium, cobalt and nickel recycling operations at its plant in Wickliffe, Ohio, USA. While the group confirmed to Roskill that cobalt and nickel recycling activities have been allocated to other Umicore plants, the closure of Wickliffe represents the group’s exit from the rhenium sector entirely. Umicore acquired the Wickliffe assets in August 2014 via its purchase of CP Chemicals.
The closure of Wickliffe will see some 7tpy Re recycling capacity lost from the market, representing further consolidation in the secondary rhenium business. While global recycling capacity was estimated at over 50tpy Re in 2019, in practice around half of this represents catalyst recycling which is effectively closed-loop and does not impact the overall rhenium market. Remaining capacity is thought to have been operating at low rates in 2018 and 2019, making the Umicore closure particularly significant.
Roskill estimates that supply of secondary rhenium from hydrometallurgical operations fell by nearly 40% between 2014 and 2019, as a result of low rhenium prices and low credits for other metals (tantalum, nickel and cobalt) making recycling less profitable. By early 2018 in Estonia alone, the cessation of recycling by Nordmet and KLS is estimated to have reduced capacity by around 3tpy. In China, Hootech suspended rhenium recycling in the first half of 2016 due to low APR demand and prices.
Rhenium demand faces a challenging outlook in 2020 and 2021 as a result of the impact of COVID-19 on air travel, which is expected to reduce aeroengine production and thus demand for rhenium-containing superalloys. However, there is potential for supply-side disruptions to tighten the market. The exit of Umicore from the rhenium recycling business compounds other potential supply concerns; primary rhenium is entirely sourced as a by-product, nearly all from either molybdenum or copper processing, and several important mines for rhenium feedstock supplies have reduced output in 2020 due to COVID-19.
Roskill’s Rhenium: Outlook to 2029, 11th Edition report was published in December 2019. For more information click here. Rhenium is one of the metals under the spotlight at Roskill’s forthcoming webinar, “Impact of COVID-19 on the Aerospace Sector and Implications for Minor Metals” on 30 June. To register visit here.