What Are Catalytic Converters and How Are They Recycled?

What Are Catalytic Converters?

Whether you’re a seasoned recycler or you’ve just been introduced to your new toll-refiner, we understand that the recycling process of converters might seem like a minefield of questions. Why are they recycled? What are the stages to recycling converters? When do I get paid?

To equip you with all the answers, we created a converter recycling guide to help you understand every step of the process. And by the end of this guide, you’ll be empowered with the right information to help you team up with the right processor and get the most from your material.

Why Do We Use Catalytic Converters and How Do They Function?

In the 1970s, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began regulating emissions from automobiles. They wanted to reduce the ecological impact of harmful pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and hydrocarbons. For this reason, catalytic converters became staple pieces to all gasoline vehicles.

Converters are devices placed in internal combustion engines that transform harmful pollutants into less damaging emissions. The catalyst material inside, made of platinum, palladium, and rhodium causes a chemical reaction called oxidation and reduction (redox). This process transforms the toxic gases we mentioned above into carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and water vapor, which are emissions that aren’t as detrimental.

That’s why catalytic converters are valuable assets to recycle: because they contain precious metals that can be sold on the global market for a valuable price. So when we refer to recycling converters, we mean the process of extracting platinum, palladium, and rhodium from the unit. Let’s take a look at full process of catalytic converter recycling.

The Stages of Catalytic Converter Recycling

When spent converters are collected from vehicles, they’ll eventually end up at a toll-refiner’s facility and professionals will extract the precious metals they contain. Converters go through multiple steps before you get paid, which involve cutting the cores, analyzing them, and creating a detailed report. As an example, we’ll take a look at the five stages in PMR’s unique toll-refining process.

Counting & Grading

When your converters arrive at a PMR facility, they’re counted and graded first. That means that they’re separated by material type: OEM, DPF, aftermarkets, foil, and beads. PMR does this to ensure that the final assay report is reflective of the material that arrived at our facility.

Decanning, Crushing, and Commingling

Material is then moved into the machinery, where all metal pipes and shells are removed and the ceramic inside is released. The machines crush and commingle the ceramic until it’s a homogenous and fine powder, in which every particle within has an equal chance of being analyzed.


To ensure the accuracy of analysis results, PMR samples your material multiple times. Two or more samples makes it easier to counter-verify results to ensure they’re as precise as possible. Once material is sampled, the next step is the assay analysis.


PMR assays your converters to determine the accurate precious metal composition of your material. This part of the process involves standardized technology, such as X-ray fluorescence (XRF) benchtop and Inductive Coupled Plasma (ICP) devices, which measure the precise amount of platinum, palladium, and rhodium in your converter lot.

What is XRF & ICP?

The XRF benchtop machine is a non-destructive technique that measures secondary x-rays emitted by a sample. On the other hand, ICP measures the light intensity emitted by each precious metal within a sample.

Both technologies are excellent choices, but they differ in time and financial investments. XRF is the less expensive machine and produces results relatively quick. Accuracy is excellent, but not as precise as ICP, which is a huge capital investment, but delivers extremely accurate assay results.

To maximize accuracy, PMR uses both XRF and ICP technologies to analyze your material because we know that with an accurate analysis, you get the most from your material.

Your Assay Report and Getting Paid

Your assay report is a critical piece of the recycling process as it allows you to understand your material and hedge your metals accordingly. At PMR, we believe in empowering you with all the information necessary to help you hedge effectively and get the best potential value for your converters. It’s for this reason that we include the following information in your assay report:

  • Gross/net weights
  • Parts per million (PPMs)
  • Converter counts
  • Metal return percentages
  • Precious metal market prices
  • Units paid by the piece (Extras)
  • Processing fees
  • Interest rates
  • Hedged prices

Now’s time for payment! You can either hedge your material or ask for final payment. Remember that if you didn’t hedge and you ask for full payment, your prices will be delivered based on the market prices of the metals at that time.

Let’s dive into your hedging opportunities.

What is Hedging and When Can You Hedge Your Metals?

Hedging is the strategic process of locking in a precious metal market price so that even if the market moves, you’ll still receive payment based on that hedged price. It eliminates the risk of adverse market developments affecting your return on investment.

You can hedge at different stages during the recycling process, but not all processors work the same. At PMR, you can hedge before the end of your contract or after, depending on the tolling options you choose. We also offer unique hedging opportunities that allow you to lock in the prices of one, two, or all three metals, partially or fully.

And there you have it. You’ve been paid based on the true value of your material through a process called toll-refining.

For more toll-refining information, visit our Resource Center.

To learn more about our hedging and tolling options, Call a representative.

Published: August 9, 2023
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