Aurubis boosts investment in US, looks to increase scrap processing globally

Positive feedback has spurred Aurubis to expand its investment in the United States and examine growth opportunities globally within its core business and in new fields

Aurubis’s chief executive officer Roland Harings told Fastmarkets about plans to expand its investment in the United States on Wednesday, December 21.

The multi-metal recycling giant, based in Hamburg, Germany, announced on Tuesday December 20 that it was investing €530 million ($561.5 million) in expansion projects at its Richmond recycling plant in the US state of Georgia and in projects at its operations in Pirdop, Bulgaria, and Hamburg.

The company will also invest in information technology, including migration to a new platform, which will help standardize and harmonize the company’s smelter network. The move was not influenced by the cyberattack on the company in October, according to Harings.

He noted that Aurubis’ strong crisis management system and the recent investments in cybersecurity paid off. “We did not have any damage; plants were up and running. We were back in three weeks without loss of production,” he said.

Increasing production globally

The investment in Richmond will double processing capacity of the plant. Construction began on June 17.

Initially, the Richmond plant was designed to process 90,000 tonnes of complex recycling material, producing 35,000 tonnes of blister copper annually. The expansion — Phase 2 of the project — will double that processing capacity to 180,000 tonnes.

Harings said this would also double the plant’s output to 70,000 tonnes of blister copper per year.

First-phase construction is going well, and Harings said he is pleased with recycling material availability, energy availability and costs — which he noted are better than in Germany — and market feedback.

The plant is expected to start processing scrap in 2024 and ramp up to full Phase 1 capacity in 2025. The expanded processing capacity will come online in 2026, with ramp-up to full Phase 2 capacity scheduled for completion in the second half of that year.

“Instead of waiting two years for the next phase [as was initially planned], we decided to do the expansion now,” he said, adding, “We have more room for further expansion [in the plant], but nothing has been decided for that [expansion] yet.”

The company also will use funds to increase production at its Complex Recycling Hamburg (CRH) project.

“This is part of optimizing our flow sheet in Hamburg,” Harings said.

The CRH process considerably broadens the metallurgical capabilities in the Aurubis smelter network and optimizes utilized capacity for existing plants while improving run time for the processing of precious metals, according to the company.

Projects for energy transition

Aurubis will invest €12 million euros in the expansion of its photovoltaic plant in Pirdop. The facility generates 14 MWh of energy per year, and Aurubis plans to expand this capacity to 24 MWh per year.

The plant, which is expected to be commissioned as early as 2024, will help the company achieve its goal of producing 20% of the site’s energy through clean methods by 2030, Harings said.

Aurubis is also monitoring the market and considering the feasibility of entering the black mass recycling and metal extraction market, according to the CEO.

“We have developed our proprietary process for black mass and started our pilot plant in March 2022” in Hamburg, Harings said. He noted that Aurubis had achieved very encouraging outcomes but that it was assessing the market and possible supply chains, while “working on fine-tuning” its processing capabilities.

Harings said the company expects end-of-life lithium batteries to become more available for industry-scale recycling by the end of the decade, when electric vehicles currently on the roads start to wind down.

Financial results and future projects

Aurubis on Wednesday reported increases in revenue, gross profit, net income and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization for the fourth quarter and the financial year.

“This positive development was due in particular to substantially increased copper prices compared to the same period of the previous year. Stronger demand for copper products, among other factors, had an impact as well,” the company said in in a press release.

To boost its multi-metal recovery core business, Aurubis will build a bleed processing plant at its Olen site in Belgium. This hydrometallurgical recycling facility will recover higher amounts of precious metals from processing bleed faster, Harings said. Aurubis expects the facility to become fully operational in fiscal-year 2025-26.

“It is important in the context of multi-metal processing and our core business technology,” he said.

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