December 2, 2014 / 4:35 PM / 5 years ago

Platinum from road dust, Veolia cleans up on British streets

* Catalytic converters emit particles of precious metals

* Veolia sorts platinum, palladium, rhodium from road debris

* Plans to build two more plants in Britain

By Geert De Clercq

PARIS, Dec 2 (Reuters) - French firm Veolia is recycling precious metals worth 100,000 pounds ($155,000) each year from dust swept off British streets and plans to recover more by opening two new plants.

Every day, catalytic converters in cars spit out minute particles of platinum, palladium and rhodium, which end up in road sweepings gathered by waste recyclers like Veolia.

In the past year, Veolia Environnement’s pilot plant in Ling Hall, close to the central English city of Birmingham, has started to filter out these precious metals from the 40,000 tonnes a year of dust it treats.

“We have a surface mine on our city streets, Estelle Brachlianoff, head of Veolia UK and Ireland, told reporters.

Veolia plans to open two more centres, one close to London and another at a separate location in southern England, to recover precious metals from the 400,000 tonnes of dirt it sweeps off British streets every year.

These could generate 1 million pounds worth of precious metals, it estimates. Veolia is also looking at opening such plants in its domestic French market.

The potential is huge, as Veolia also wants to recycle precious metals from road dirt gathered by other operators, including local authorities.

The primary aim of the three million pound Ling Hall plant is not to mine precious metals, but to remove toxic elements from road debris so that the remaining inert dust can be used in construction and other industries rather than go into landfill.

Putting road dirt into landfill costs about 100 pounds per tonne, including 80 pounds levied in taxes.

With mechanical sorting, flotation and magnetic fields, Veolia takes out precious metals and other matter, recycling 80 percent of the sweepings.

Veolia chief executive Antoine Frerot said the procedure is economical only in countries where the cost of landfill is high.

“We can give cities a better price offer for sweeping their streets as we economise on the cost of landfill,” Frerot said.

The precious metal plant is part of Veolia’s drive to boost its revenue from recycling projects. These made up 2.5 billion euros ($3.1 billion) of its 22.3 billion revenues last year. Frerot expects this will double by 2020. ($1 = 0.6389 pounds) (1 US dollar = 0.8065 euro) (Reporting by Geert De Clercq; editing by Keith Weir)

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