Korea Zinc invests in Igneo Technologies

Igneo Technologies LLC, which is headquartered in White Plains, New York, says it has finalized a majority investment agreement with Korea Zinc, a metals smelting company based in Seoul that specializes in precious and nonferrous metals.

In a disclosure posted on its website, Korea Zinc says it has taken a 73.21 percent share in Igneo for 432.4 billion Korean won, or $330 million, through its United States subsidiary, Pedal Point Holdings.

Established in 1974, Korea Zinc produces 1 million tons per year of 18 different nonferrous metals, including zinc, lead, copper, gold and silver. Korea Zinc launched Pedal Point, a wholly owned subsidiary, last December to build out its presence as a global integrated circular resource platform.

Igneo says the capital investment and strategic support will allow it to accelerate its global growth strategy, including projects currently underway, such as the construction of a new secondary smelter in Savannah, Georgia, that will process 90,000 metric tons annually once it is online in early 2024.

Igneo Chief Operations Officer Brian Diesselhorst says the companies have been in discussions for six months regarding the deal. While private equity investors were offering higher valuations, Igneo selected Korea Zinc’s offer because the company represents a strategic partner that allows Igneo to achieve full circularity, he adds.  

Igneo CEO Danish Mir says Korea Zinc shares Igneo’s vision and commitment to creating a circular economy. While he says other mining and smelting companies talk about sustainability, Korea Zinc is “forging the relationships and assembling the pieces” that will enable the company to meet its commitments and the goals it has established. “That’s what drew us to them.”

He adds that the partnership with Korea Zinc enables vertical integration, with the copper concentrate that Igneo produces being used to produce copper foil that will be used in manufacturing electric vehicles, for example.

Igneo presently operates a metal recovery furnace in Isbergues, France, with an infeed capacity of 30,000 metric tons annually. That plant initially was known as Terra Nova SAS, and it was constructed by scientists who developed the pyrolysis technology the company used.

The company that would come to be known as Igneo purchased Terra Nova out of bankruptcy in 2014, finetuned the technology and renamed the plant WEEE Metallica. It has since been renamed Igneo France SAS.

Igneo is set to break ground on its Savannah facility at the end of August or in September, Mir says. That facility will have two furnaces with 90,000 tons of combined “sustainable copper concentrate” output. The first furnace is expected to go online in 2024. “Based on its ramp-up, we will determine timeframe [to install] the second furnace,” he says, adding that permits for the facility are in place.

The company uses pyrolysis to transform low-end electronics into copper concentrate.

The byproduct generated in the process is a baghouse dust that contains a good deal of tin, Mir says. “That is going to a tin processor for the recovery of tin.”

Igneo has what Mir describes as a “robust and bespoke gas handling system” that neutralizes the gaseous plastics and resins found in the infeed material using various steps.

Igneo has been able to reduce its natural gas consumption at its plant in France by 95 percent by using its waste heat, he adds, furthering the sustainability of its process.

The Savannah site will use furnaces built by John Cockerill, headquartered in Belgium, and shredding equipment supplied by French company MTB Recycling, Mir says. The site also will have magnets and eddy currents and potentially optical sorters.  

“We can handle low-grade material,” Mir says. “That’s what makes us special.” Rather than rely on printed circuit boards as infeed material, he says Igneo can take small electronic devices, such as calculators, alarm clocks and toys, and process them. He describes these devices as the “fastest growing fraction” of end-of-life electronics, adding, “and people don’t have an answer for it.”

The Savannah location will be fed in part using scrap from evTerra Recycling, a subsidiary of Igneo’s that processes end-of-life electronics. Unlike other companies in the space that primarily focus on remarketing devices and components from high-end devices, evTerra is targeting low-grade and midgrade devices.

When it comes to supplying the Savannah plant, Mir says, “We are going to get the material from the source. We don’t want to be dependent on anyone to provide us.”

Diesselhorst says, “We did not want to be like other secondary smelters beholden to 800 or 900 electronics recyclers.” While the company will recover and remarket some components, it will primarily focus on processing incoming devices into a form that is ideal for Igneo’s pyrolysis process, he adds.

Evterra has processing operations in Las Vegas and Atlanta and a sales office in Tampa, Florida. The company will be opening additional processing locations in Chicago and San Antonio in August and September, respectively, with their shredders coming online three months later, Diesselhorst says. When all the sites are running, evTerra will have 140,000 tons of annual shredding and sorting capacity in the U.S., he adds.    

Mir says the shredders evTerra uses have been modified by the company and also use a number of environmental controls that are not commonly used in the industry. The sites also employ eddy currents and magnetic separators as well as optical sorters. He says the company also may add flotation equipment to further separate materials.

All of evTerra’s processing locations will be outfitted with the same equipment in the same layout and will use the same procedures. This will allow the sites to be “plug and play,” Mir says, and also will enable centralized spare parts storage.

“The strategic partnership with Korea Zinc is an incredible milestone for Igneo,” Mir says in a news release about the Korea Zinc investment. “Their world-class smelting and refining capabilities have made them a global leader in the production and recycling of critical metals.”

Yun B. Choi, vice chairman of Korea Zinc, says, “Tapping into Igneo’s robust capabilities to collect and process end-of-life electronics will allow Korea Zinc to upgrade its standing in secondary copper refining. With Pedal Point now fully running, Korea Zinc will be delving into the wealth of such opportunities in North America and beyond to find partners across verticals with the goal of making metal refining more efficient, circular, and sustainable.” 

Mir says the Igneo leadership team will remain in place and has been tasked by Korea Zinc to execute its vision for the company. He adds that Igneo is looking for a chief strategy officer as well as personnel to fill other roles within the company. 

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