Partnership alliance resulted in innovative palladium recovery

Pfizer’s Ringaskiddy complex in Co. Cork is the largest Pfizer production facility outside the US. The active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) plant has 3 organic synthesis plants and its own Kilo Technology Laboratory (KTL) where it scales up new products. Human medication such as Viagra, Norvasc, Zoloft and Zithromax were ‘born’ here. Each organic synthesis plant on site has its own production process, resulting in a broad and complex variety of waste streams. Through collaboration with its waste partner Indaver, a precious metal recovery (Pd) project was set up and delivered large environmental & financial benefits to Pfizer. Brian O’Rourke, Cost Reduction Specialist for Waste at Pfizer, who led the project team, explains the significance for Pfizer.

The hunt for palladium

“In 2018, as part of a European Total Waste Management contract, the Partnership Alliance between Pfizer Ringaskiddy & Indaver resulted in the unique recovery of palladium, a scarce & high-cost precious metal” states O’Rourke. “Palladium catalysts are used to speed up chemical reactions. Within our R&D division a new generation of homogeneous catalysts is used to launch new products. These type of catalysts are completely dissolved in the liquid reaction phase and thus Pfizer isn’t able to separate/recover with our own internal techniques. This resulted in loss of valuable and expensive material which needs to be purchased each time. Today palladium is more valuable than gold.”
“Sustainability and Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) standards are key to Pfizer”, clarifies O’Rourke. “Waste minimization, maximum recovery are major focus areas for us. Together with our partners we continuously seek improvements to increase our sustainability, efficiency and cost competitiveness. In Pfizer’s collaboration with Indaver, there is a strong focus on material and energy recovery. That is why we approached them to look into the recovery of palladium from our liquid Palbociclib waste stream, something we were struggling with to get good results. Indaver came up with a solution after we jointly investigated the chemistry at molecular level”

Innovative molecular recovery techniques

O’Rourke is clear: “Based on our production and chemical information, Indaver developed a new method and invested as much as Pfizer to make it work in a relatively short term period”. Loss of precious metals like palladium in liquid production waste leaves a lot of value unexploited. Common treatment techniques focus on compliance and energy recovery but destroy this intrinsic value. Indaver invested in a new installation ‘IndaMP’ short for Indaver Metal Processing, recovering the Precious Metals at its site in Antwerp (BE) . The application of innovative separation techniques leads to excellent recovery results while ensuring compliance with the highest safety and health standards of the pharmaceutical industry. 

The circular economy put into practice for Pfizer

“In 2018, ten tankers were processed which led to the recovery of a considerable value as Palladium. Alongside the financial gain, Pfizer reduced its carbon footprint with 700 tons of avoided CO2 emission. This was only possible thanks to the successful collaboration of the joint and dedicated project team. Research, planning, operations, legal and SHE matters were all tackled in a most professional way and within 10 months the desired result was achieved. Other opportunities with similar waste streams are investigated, both in Ireland and on a global level. It proves that Pfizer has chosen the right vendor for this and that Indaver supports the company in realising its Green Journey targets 2020/2025” clarifies O’Rourke.

Excellent project management & good communication led to success

“The local Indaver team knows and understands our waste and they combined it with the group’s knowledge of molecule recovery and their contacts” says O’Rourke. “Indaver’s project lead worked out all proposals, planning, operational organization, Indaver site logistics, contact with subcontractors and functioned as the link between Pfizer & Indaver production, analytical services & engineering. Indaver’s commercial support was responsible for organizing the samples, SAP-workflow for transparency, return of Pd-value on the Pfizer account etc. All administration was managed by Indaver including the complex Transfrontier Shipment (TFS) dossiers. We had a good working relationship, especially when challenges occurred, solutions were provided. Short communication lines facilitated this. It was never too much trouble, Indaver immediately responded. All milestones were communicated in an open and transparent way also with Pfizer corporate. For us , Indaver made the impossible, possible and make the partnership alliance a success” concludes O’Rourke.