Challenges in Aluminum Recycling

The demand for aluminum is increasing in the automotive industry due to its lightweight and energy-efficiency. 

FREMONT, CA : In the automotive industry, demand for aluminum, especially forged aluminum alloys for electric vehicles, is growing due to the need for lightweight vehicles as the industry moves away from internal combustion engines using cast alloys. With the rising pressure on European construction to minimize its CO2 emissions and become more energy effective, the need for aluminum in the sector is also likely to continue to increase, as it is a lightweight, energy-efficient, and infinitely recyclable commodity.

In order to minimize their carbon footprint, companies have already seen European plastics producers contribute to the rising quantity of recycled content of their products, and now they are witnessing a similar thing happen in the aluminum industry. The aluminum producers sell high-recycled aluminum content to show their environmental credentials and their commitment to reducing CO2 emissions.

It is evident that there are already end markets for high-quality recycled aluminum and that market is only expected to grow further in the future. The problem for European scrap metal processors, along with a rising number of aluminum producers investing in scrap material sorting equipment themselves, is how to manufacture a reliably high-quality, high-purity furnace-ready aluminum product. To do this, the feedstock must be washed of heavy metals, aluminum-plastic blends, and other light materials, like magnesium, to optimize the utilization of scrap in their furnaces. For the aluminum sector, being able to depend on a repeatable quality furnace material is essential.

Zorba, a mixed non-ferrous material produced by end-of-life vehicle (ELV) eddy-current separators and waste electronic & electrical equipment (WEEE) recycling, is one of the primary sources scrap aluminum. Zorba consists mainly of aluminum (typically 70-80 percent) and other non-ferrous metals such as copper, brass, zinc, and even eddy-current separator-generated magnesium.

In addition, Zorba contains pollutants like rubber and foil that are non-metallic. Magnesium makes up 1-2 percent of a standard scrap aluminum fraction in Europe and is known to be an unnecessary contaminant in the scrap mix. Like Zorba aluminum, secondary aluminum smelters ideally contain deficient magnesium, generally well below 0.5 percent by weight.

It needs sophisticated sorting technology to separate aluminum-plastic blends, light plastics, and magnesium from aluminum waste. The new application is one such technique that tackles this challenge and provides a reliable, robust, and cost-effective alternative to sink-float separation. For the X-TRACT machine, TOMRA Sorting has established the option to extract aluminum-plastic compounds and magnesium from aluminum in products such as Zorba.