Strategically important metals - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Supplementary written evidence from The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (SIM 03a)

Q. In response to question 28, Dr Rickinson refers to the export of large volumes of copper scrap (800,000 tonnes in 2005) mentioned by Dr Pitts, am I right in thinking that Dr Rickinson believes that this is due to copper theft? I guess the process is that the copper is stolen and then sold to a scrap yard from where it is then exported. Are you able to comment on the following questions:
What proportion of the total scrapped copper in 2005 does the 800k tonnes represent?
Roughly what proportion of scrapped copper is thought to come from theft?
Why are there no facilities for recycling copper in the UK?

Within the responses to question 28 and the future of 800,000 tonnes of exported non ferrous metals suggested by Dr Pitts, I would expect that the largest volume of this would be aluminium. I have no direct knowledge of the proportions involved, but within a range of non ferrous materials, aluminium, copper, titanium, brass/bronze and nickel would probably feature. I will try to get you a more precise estimate of current exports and proportions from the British Metal Recycling Association.

Q. In response to question 31, Dr Rickinson states in regard to copper recycling that: "processes have been developed in which the UK could invest without necessarily going through a melting route". Could you please elaborate on these a little?

Your second question relates to the absence of facilities for recycling copper in the UK. To be specific, the logistic network to collect and segregate copper scrap is in place within the UK, but the downstream investment to remove the polymer and other sheath materials from the copper and then to remelt and cast this is not in place. Commercial and environmental concerns are important here. Insulated cable can be granulated and the plastic coating removed from the copper to use both materials in a controlled recycling loop. By contrast, an easier solution is to burn the plastic coating off the copper cable directly in the melting furnace. This creates environmental issues which, within the UK, would be expensive to overcome. Where such environmental policies are reduced, the opportunity exists to recover the copper at the expense of losing the polymer material. I would suggest therefore that no melting facilities are available in the UK due to the high investment cost required to satisfy all legislation and to make a commercial return on this investment.

Regarding your comment on the matter of question 31, my reference here is to various processes that can be categorised as metal extrusion. Generating a supply of polymer free, and clean copper scraps, the copper granules can be cold extruded through a die. During extrusion, friction forces will rapidly increase the temperature of the copper causing diffusion bonding of the metal particles in the extruded shape. Providing the metal is clean, and following subsequent heat treatment, high purity, high conductivity copper can be formed which is suitable for further drawing to wire and cable and tube forms. The manufacture of drawn wire and cable from copper coil is still very active in the UK, so this extruded recycled material could be directly used in the UK. Currently, we understand the coil for wire drawing is imported from Poland, China and India.

Dr Bernie Rickinson
The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining

15 February 2011

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