2025 needs to reach an annual output of 20 million tons. Why are recycled non-ferrous metals classified as the “two highs”?

“We started to apply for the project at the beginning of last year. Due to various reasons, we only started to apply for the EIA around the Spring Festival this year. At present, the project is stuck in the EIA, and the construction start has been affected to a certain extent. It is because our secondary aluminum project is classified as two High’.” An industry insider engaged in the production of recycled aluminum told the 21st Century Business Herald that his recycled aluminum enterprise was stuck in the environmental impact assessment process and had not started construction after a year and a half after the successful establishment of the project.

Non-ferrous metals

The situation in this company is not alone. The “14th Five-Year Plan for Circular Economy Development” issued by the National Development and Reform Commission in early July set an annual output target of 11.50 million tons for the secondary aluminum industry by 2025. On the whole, the “Plan” proposes to improve the level of processing and utilization of renewable resources, to promote the large-scale, standardized, and clean utilization of renewable resources, and to promote the agglomeration and development of renewable resources industries. The output of recycled non-ferrous metals will reach 20 million tons by 2025, of which the output of recycled copper and recycled lead will also reach 4 million tons and 2.9 million tons respectively. For the recycled non-ferrous metals industry, this is undoubtedly good news to boost morale.

But in fact, what practitioners are facing is not only the positive attitude in the top-level design, but also some key points in the entire policy chain that need to be clarified as soon as possible.

Circular economy or “two highs”?

For a long time, my country’s non-ferrous metal smelting industry has relied on the exploitation of natural resources. However, because mineral resources are non-renewable natural resources, after many years of mining, the effective period of the mining of many elements has run out. The recycling of non-ferrous metals has made a huge contribution to the economic and social development of our country, mainly because it greatly reduces the demand for extracting non-renewable resources through mining.

According to Li Xinchuang, Secretary of the Party Committee and Chief Engineer of the Metallurgical Industry Planning and Research Institute, compared with traditional non-ferrous metal production activities, recycled non-ferrous metals have very prominent advantages in terms of environmental benefits. The traditional non-ferrous metal production and smelting process requires the emission of a large amount of particulate matter, sulfur dioxide and other waste gas pollutants, as well as wastewater and smelting waste residues, and its production is accompanied by the development of non-ferrous metal mines, which will cause serious damage to the natural ecological environment.

Li Xinchuang believes that as a way of recycling solid waste, non-ferrous metal recycling itself is an environmental protection industry. For example, under the trend of increasing demand for battery energy storage, proper disposal of waste batteries is closely related to it. And in the context of the “dual carbon” goal, the development of the recycled non-ferrous metal industry is also of positive significance for promoting the non-ferrous metal industry to reach its peak in advance and promoting the improvement of the recycled non-ferrous metal industry structure.

A person in charge of an enterprise who has been engaged in the recycled non-ferrous metal industry for many years told the 21st Century Business Herald that just taking recycled aluminum as an example, the energy consumption in the smelting process of recycled aluminum is only 4% to 5% of electrolytic aluminum smelting. And on the premise of meeting the national casting aluminum alloy raw material standard, the emission during the secondary aluminum smelting process is mainly a small amount of nitrogen oxides. “So in fact, recycled non-ferrous metal projects should belong to the circular economy industry.”

But in fact it is not the case. Except for the aforementioned industry insiders who encountered difficulties in the EIA link, the person in charge of the above-mentioned company also stated that the company has encountered more or less access problems in its recycled non-ferrous metal projects in many parts of the country. “When setting up the project, it is necessary to always explain to the local authorities that our project is different from the general non-ferrous metal smelting. It has low energy consumption and low emissions. In some places where the project only takes half a year, we need one year. In the past, only one was needed. For us, the environmental impact assessment will take at least three months, sometimes even as long as half a year.”

The access difficulties caused by being classified as the “two highs” greatly lengthened the entire process of the project from initiation to construction. Due to the delay in starting work, companies that cannot get the work permit are under great pressure on the capital chain. At the same time, it has also caused some investment and financing activities to lose patience in the recycled metal industry.

Why is the recycled metal industry, which is clearly listed as an important industry in the circular economy plan, is classified as the “two highs” in the specific practical procedures? The person in charge of the above-mentioned enterprise stated that this is because the smelting of secondary aluminum and secondary copper was directly classified as “aluminum smelting” and “copper smelting” in the “National Economic Industry Classification” released in 2017.

The “Comprehensive List of Environmental Protection” updated by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment in 2020 has already delisted recycled copper and recycled aluminum. Therefore, the aforementioned two practitioners also expressed their understanding of the local division of the industry into the “two highs”: “For local environmental protection departments, the discrepancies between policies are not directly for them to make decisions. The relevant local departments also hope that This problem can be resolved sooner.”

At present, many companies have reported the problems they encountered to industry associations. He Zhiqiang, the technical director of the Recycling Metal Branch of the China Nonferrous Metals Industry Association, told 21st Century Business Herald that they have reported these problems to the relevant departments and actively communicated.

Many weak links need to be quickly filled

The supply-side structural reform of the non-ferrous metal industry has been continuously advancing in recent years. The concentration and scale of the industry have been steadily increasing, and the output value has repeatedly hit historical highs. At present, in terms of quantity, my country’s output of ten non-ferrous metals ranks first in the world.

But at the same time, He Zhiqiang also emphasized an important indicator: market share. In terms of market share, my country’s recycled non-ferrous metal industry is still relatively backward. In 2020, the total consumption of the four major metals of aluminum, copper, zinc, and lead in my country is about 77.6 million tons, of which 21.5 million tons of recycled metals, accounting for 27.8% of consumption, is 35.3% lower than the world average, which is 7.5 percentage points lower than that of developed countries. The national average of 45% is farther apart.

He Zhiqiang told the 21st Century Business Herald that this is mainly due to the large production base of primary metals and the poor awareness of resource recycling in the whole society. “In particular, some places think that the use of waste non-ferrous metal materials is a manifestation of’backwardness and poverty.’ Now that our country has money, we should use the best and most expensive mineral materials. Some people mistakenly believe that the use of waste non-ferrous metal materials It is an industry with high pollution and high energy consumption. It equates non-ferrous metal scrap with’foreign garbage’, and rejects waste non-ferrous metal materials that are conducive to the transformation of economic structure. “These phenomena are not conducive to China’s recycled non-ferrous metal industry. The rapid and healthy development makes it difficult for the opportunities gained in the process of international competition to be effective.

At the same time, Li Xinchuang also emphasized the current low concentration of my country’s recycled metal industry. Recycling entities are mainly small and medium-sized enterprises, and most of them are in a state of “scattered, chaotic, and small”. The collection and distribution, processing and distribution links are weak, and the level of refined raw material classification and pretreatment is low.

At the technical level, there is also a certain gap between my country and developed countries. Recycling non-ferrous metal technology can be divided into three technologies according to the process flow. One is material collection and pretreatment technology; the other is material smelting extraction technology; and the third is by-product and residue treatment technology. In He Zhiqiang’s view, my country’s problems mainly focus on the front-end pretreatment technology and the back-end slag treatment technology.

Specifically, a large number of dismantling and recycling work in my country’s recycled copper industry is still manual, with extensive sorting, serious pollution emissions, and lack of refined sorting technology. In the secondary aluminum industry, there is still a “small workshop” production method, and the aluminum material classification and sorting technology is backward. Li Xinchuang said that a considerable number of enterprises have backward smelting equipment and large aluminum burning loss; the products have high impurity content and unstable quality. Although individual secondary aluminum plants have introduced the world’s advanced complete sets of production equipment and technology, they have not played their due role due to the source of scrap aluminum and high production costs.

He Zhiqiang took aluminum as an example to give a set of more intuitive figures: due to the backward pretreatment technology, the melting recovery rate of cans is less than 78%. If advanced technology is used, the recovery rate can be increased to more than 85%; due to the recovery of slag The technology is backward. In 2019 alone, the metal loss caused by the melting of the aluminum industry reached 1.27 million tons. If advanced technology is adopted, this loss can be reduced by more than 70%, reducing aluminum burning loss by 1 million tons, and reducing carbon emissions by 14.4 million tons; saving electricity 15 billion degrees, equivalent to Gezhouba’s annual power generation.

He Zhiqiang believes that it is necessary to formulate a comprehensive promotion plan at the national level, detailing the common responsibilities of all stakeholders. For example: the responsibility of the recycler, the responsibility of the disposer, the responsibility of the manufacturer, the role of the public, the role of the government, “all related activities are determined through laws and regulations, only the mechanism formed in this way is effective.”

The non-ferrous industry is also one of the eight key industries in the national carbon market in the future, and will obtain more low-carbon development opportunities after being included in the national carbon market. Li Xinchuang revealed that the current status of the non-ferrous industry’s carbon emissions and the calculation of carbon emission reduction contributions have been initially completed, and the non-ferrous industry’s carbon emission accounting standards have also been initially formulated.

The person in charge of the China Nonferrous Metals Industry Association also made it clear not long ago that relevant departments have studied and formulated the “Implementation Plan for Carbon Peak in the Non-ferrous Metals Industry” and proposed to strive to be the first to achieve carbon peak in 2025. This plan is better than the national carbon peak. The time to reach the peak target is at least 5 years ahead of schedule. In Li Xinchuang’s view, the demand growth rate of the renewable non-ferrous metal industry will continue to accelerate in the past two years, will play a greater role in resource protection, and will also undertake the historical mission of carbon emission reduction.

(Author: Wang Chen Editor: Zhou Shangqi)

Post time: Aug-19-2021

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