Metal recycling of non-magnetic metals has traditionally been done by hand sorting – having workers literally hand-inspect scrap and sort it one piece at a time. Besides requiring excessive manual effort, it is difficult or impossible for workers to accurately determine composition, particularly for alloys. Increased metal recycling has many broad economic benefits: it can reduce landfill size, reduce pollution (mining new metals is a very energy-intensive and costly process), and create value from waste products. wTe’s goal was to develop a new revolutionary technology to accurately analyze, sort and recycle scrap metals at high speeds using advanced opto-electronic techniques. However, the proposed innovation had a high degree of technical risk, which, coupled with the potential for broad economic benefits, made it a good candidate for ATP support.
and Economic Impacts
wTe Corporation and its subcontractor, National Recovery Technologies, developed a new suite of technologies, called Spectramet®, through the ATP project. According to Dr. David B. Spencer, President of wTe:
“ATP not only provided funding, but also provided key project management input for the technical and business direction for the company. Moreover, we were able to apply a part of our ATP funding to retain expert technical support from world-class university experts including professors from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Vanderbilt University, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Moreover, through the results developed through the ATP project, wTe was able to obtain additional funding through the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, to solve other, related technological issues that enhances the value of the Spectramet® process”
With this experienced team of experts, wTe developed sensitive sensor systems using advanced algorithms and optoelectronics that permit the unambiguous identification of metals by specific alloy type in just a matter of milliseconds – in real time, while the metals are flying through the air at 400-500 feet per minute. The new Spectramet® technology was integrated into a continuous–feed conveyor system robust enough to be used in real situations on dirty scrap and recyclable materials. Due to these innovations, a wide range of public benefits can be traced to this ATP-investment, including:
- Upgrading mixed non-ferrous metal scraps (titanium, superalloys, copper and aluminum) to high value alloy production thereby avoiding the outright waste of some metal scrap that is currently unavailable for recycling in any form.
The recycled metal is less expensive and also allows greater quantities of scrap to be substituted for more expensive virgin feedstocks, which assists the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing. The Spectramet® process has the potential to have a very large and direct positive impact on the bottom-line for U.S. manufacturers. Rather than relying heavily upon new virgin metals (which must be mined and manufactured –often imported from abroad), producers can now use recyclable metals and scrap generated here in the U.S. through advanced sorting technology.
In addition, the vast majority of new aluminum and titanium must be imported, so using recycled metals can significantly reduce this import dependence, thus improving our balance of trade here at home. Aluminum, copper, titanium, and superalloys are used in many critical technology sectors (such as aerospace), so there is a large national benefit to reducing dependence on importing these strategic metals and alloys.
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In the case of aluminum:
- Recycling aluminum results in 95% less air pollution and 97% less water pollution than producing primary or virgin aluminum from ore.
- Recycling aluminum saves 95% of the energy necessary to mine bauxite ore, extract alumina, the raw materials needed to manufacture aluminum and produce metal from it.
- Recycling 1 ton of aluminum saves the equivalent in energy of 2350 gallons of gasoline. This is equivalent to the amount of fuel needed to provide a typical home with electricity for a period of 10 years1.
- Reducing landfill waste, which leads to more effective use of scare natural resources
- Metals comprise of 5-10% of landfill waste.
- Approximately 30% of copper in the world is in landfills – use of the Spectramet technology can be used to reduce landfills.
Thus, the ATP project has helped wTe make a previously low-tech, worker-intensive operation with low value into a high-tech, automated process that can have real economic benefits to industry and at the same time generate significant positive environmental impacts.
Date created: June 28, 2006
August 21, 2006