Don’t Fall for the Refiner’s Shell Game – The Percentage Game.

Whenever I meet a new prospect, the first question I’m always asked is “What percentage do you pay?” The refining industry has focused everyone’s attention on what percentage you’re getting paid. While that is an important question, it’s flawed.

The percentage or “accountability” is the percentage you’ll be paid on the amount of precious metals recovered through whatever process your refiner utilizes. The key word in that is “recovered”. How much the refiner recovers has a much more drastic result in your bottom line. The most important question to ask is “How do you ensure the highest recovery?”


If a refiner uses better methodology and/or processes and is able to recover more material…you’re net amount is higher. Look at the chart below. If you only judge your refiner on fees and accountability, but forgo looking deeper, you’d cost yourself over $500, and that’s with Refiner B only recovering 1 additional ounce… could be higher.

Aren’t all refiners the same?  No and by a wide margin. Refiners will use either an XRF, or commonly called an X-Ray, or a true fire assay which includes fusion, cupellation and parting. The refiners who pay you on an X-Ray might say that you’re getting an assay. They’ll even go to the extent of calling their x-ray results: “Assay Results”. It’s an easy ruse to pull off because they use fusion to melt the material to form a homogeneous block so their customers think that because they see fire and a melt, that they received a true assay. What really happens is that the refiner will pull samples from the melt and then do an XRF on the core samples. The bottom line is that you’re still being paid on an X-Ray.

Refiners that pay you on a true fire assay take a much more in-depth approach. This includes fusion-the original melt and extraction of beads or buttons, cupellation-the physical separation of precious metals from non-precious metals which is done during a second melting process on the beads and, finally, parting-physically separating the precious metals into their individual components. When choosing which process you are going to have your material recovered with, keep in mind that ASTM standards requires a true fire assay, XRF is not allowed under ASTM standards due to its inaccuracy. This doesn’t mean all fire assays are equal, but that’s another discussion. Ask if the assays are performed under the watchful eye of a metallurgist.

You may be wondering how different the two processes are? Fire assays are good for an accuracy of 1 part in 10,000, which is where the term 4-nines or 99.99% pure comes from. X-Rays can range from 20 to 800 parts per 10,000 in terms of accuracy. Additionally, the accuracy of an X-Ray is determined by the users integrity. XRF machines can be adjusted by the user.

How do you know if you’re getting XRF or a True Fire Assay? The easiest is based on speed. If your refiner is paying you on the spot, or at least the same day…you’re getting an X-Ray. Fire assays take time, usually about a week.

So yes, ask your refiner “What percentage am I getting?”….but, more importantly, ask them

“And what is your recovery method?”

Scott Girouard – Refining Consultant