Recovering Oil, Precious Metals from Wastewater Creates New Revenue Streams

The report shows that demand for biodiesel drives recovery of industrial FOG, while current economics do not favor lithium & phosphate recovery

Recovering Valuable Resources from Wastewater crude oil biodiesel precious metal

With rising commodity prices, recovery of resources from wastewater streams is becoming increasingly feasible, especially oil, precious metals and industrial fats, oils and greases (FOG), according to Lux Research.

Over the past decade, crude oil prices have risen nearly three-fold while the value of precious metals has soared over 250%, making recovery of these commodities attractive. Growing demand for biodiesel amid a restricted supply of feedstocks drives recovery of industrial FOG. However, current economics do not favor lithium and phosphate recovery.

“Many current wastewater streams contain resources worth billions of dollars of lost product and lost opportunity,” said Tess Murray, research associate and author of the report titled, “Recovering Valuable Resources from Wastewater.”

“As the value of resources rises, recovery technologies are beginning to make sense for even parts-per-million traces of materials such as precious metals and oil,” she added.

Lux Research analysts evaluated the emerging landscape of recovery technologies and found that:

  • • Spiraling oil price drives recovery. Oil prices over $100/bbl help make recovery of oil from wastewater streams viable. Drillers using new techniques, like hydraulic fracturing (fracking), have not caught up to established best practices for oil recovery, and commonly lose 6% to 10% of their extraction via wastewater. An investment of up to $7 million in recovery for these drillers pays for itself in the very first year of operation.
  • • Soaring use of biodiesel makes FOG recovery attractive. Skyrocketing biodiesel production—from 14 million gal in 2003 to 17.1 billion gal globally in 2013—is the chief driver of FOG recovery. Promising technologies include new methods to recycle FOG-water mixtures and processes to convert recovered FOG into animal food, soaps or other inedible products.
  • • Regulation can aid unviable segments. Regulation can enhance recovery technologies by providing support to segments that are currently economically unviable. The “zero discharge” policies of Norway, for example, brought about recovery of virtually all oil from water used in drilling. Argentina and Chile are pursuing similar methods in mining, aiding recovery of less expensive metals.
Lux Research

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