The Art and Science of Valuing Your Platinum Thermocouple Scrap

Why Thermocouples Could Be the Smartest Precious Metal Investments Today,” a post on July 19th, 2019, explained why investing in scrapped thermocouples is a very smart move for precious metal investors today.

In today’s post we would like to examine in more depth a question that we only touched on in that earlier post. Let’s explore it some more!

How can you estimate the value of scrapped thermocouples after you collect them?

The short answer to that question is, you can send your scrap to Specialty Metals Smelters and Refiners and have us test it for you and send you a report detailing the precious and other metals your scrap contains. Whether your thermocouple scrap contains precious metals (most often platinum, rhodium and silver) or base metals (often copper, nickel and woven stainless steel outer layers), our test report will give you the full picture, along with an estimate of value. Call us at 800-426-2344 and we can tell you how to send your scrap to us for testing.

But what if you are looking at a pile of old thermocouple wire that you can buy, and you want to know how much you should pay for it? And what if you already own a bunch of scrapped thermocouples and you want a ballpark estimate of how much it is worth before you send it to us for testing? Is there a way to get a rough idea of how much your tangled mess of wires is worth?

If all the used thermocouples in your batch appear to be identical, it is easier to arrive at a rough estimate of their value. If you can look closely at just one, you can come closer to estimating the value of your whole lot. If your scrap is a mixed lot of different thermocouples, your job of estimating just got harder.

First, What Kind of Thermocouples Are You Looking At?

The first step is to consider where they were used. In general, thermocouples that were used to monitor or control extremely high temperatures above 2,000⁰ F are the most likely to contain platinum and rhodium, because both those precious metals resist corrosion at high temperatures.

To explore this question in greater detail . . .

In general, thermocouples that are used to measure temperatures in the “middle” range of about -200⁰ F to about 2,000⁰ F contain mostly copper and nickel – no precious metals at all. These are classified as Types E, J, K and T thermocouples, and are generally used to monitor temperatures in the production of plastics, dairy products and other foods. They are also used to monitor low temperatures in laboratory freezers. And thermocouples that you pull from old window air conditioners and kitchen appliances are unlikely to contain platinum or gold.

As we noted earlier in this post, thermocouples that were used to monitor high temperatures above 2,000⁰ F are the most likely to contain platinum and/or rhodium. These are classified as Types B, R and S. They can be found in factories where products were made under extremely high temperatures – up to about 3,000⁰ F. (That’s hot!) These are used to measure and control temperatures in factories that make industrial ceramics, steel and other metals.

So the rule of thumb is this. . .

The hotter the setting where your thermocouples were used, the more likely they are to contain platinum and rhodium!

And what about silver? It can be found in some of the thermocouples in all the categories that we explained just above.

How Much Platinum and Rhodium Can the Right Kind of Thermocouples Contain?

The answer is, it depends on the type and the model number of the thermocouples you are looking at, and the applications they were used in. If you are lucky enough to have a batch of thermocouples that were used in a steel mill where temperatures run extremely high, for example, your thermocouple scrap is likely to contain platinum. If you have thermocouples from a company that recycles scrapped home appliances, your scrap will probably be less valuable.

By weight, what percentage of your scrap is likely to be platinum or rhodium? As little as .005%, or even less. Why so little? It’s because even the most valuable thermocouples that contain platinum also contain lots of other metals; precious metals are only part of what they contain.

Despite those small percentages, thermocouples can still be good investments that let you profit from your investment in them. Remember that the more thermocouple wire you buy, the more precious metals they are likely to contain.

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Another Factor that Hinders Your Ability to Estimate Value

It is rare to find a batch of scrapped thermocouples that are neatly coiled up pieces of wire. Most all scrapped thermocouples are attached to various other pieces and devices that can include specialized probes at the ends, electrical insulators, meters, and other “extras” that add weight, and which might or might not have some value because of the metals they contain.

The presence of these bits and pieces makes it even harder to estimate value by weighing a pile of scrap and saying something like “I have 100 pounds of scrapped thermocouples and if .005% of the total weight is platinum, that means I have .005 pounds of platinum, or about 2.5 grams. At current trading prices, that means the platinum my thermocouples contain is worth about $65.00.”

Well, could be. But the presence of all those other metals and bits and pieces could make your best estimate inaccurate.

So, What Have You Got?

Hopefully, you have a nice batch of used thermocouples that are nice, shiny clean . . . and not attached to meters, probes, electrical insulators and other kinds of unwanted “extras.”

Even if you make only a very rough estimate, you are on your way to finding out what your thermocouple scrap is worth. Even more important, you are on your way to turning your scrap into cash! Why not call our precious metal consultants today at 800-426-2344 to discuss your next steps?