How Recycling is Helping in Metal Manufacturing

The energy companies use recycling during the metals' production process as it is more energy-efficient.

FREMONT, CA: A significant driver of energy efficiency developments within the industry has been recycling in the production process of metals. According to the US Energy Information Administration, iron, steel, and aluminum processing is a highly energy-intensive procedure that accounts for 10 percent of the USA's overall usage of energy production.

Energy-intensive primary manufacturing includes the production of steel from iron ore and aluminum from bauxite ore. However, secondary processing consists of recycled scrap for the manufacture of steel and aluminum, which is much more energy-efficient.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that secondary steel production utilizes about 74 percent less energy than iron ore steel production. Simultaneously, the US Department of Energy claims that 90 percent less energy is required for secondary aluminum production than for primary production. Secondary production contributes to almost 60 percent of US aluminum production (counting both old and new scrap), while nearly 40 percent of the direct output. Similarly, in most steel manufacturing, recycling is used.

According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), 40 percent of US steel production in 2011 originated from basic oxygen furnaces (BOF) with nearly 80 percent pig iron (molten iron) inputs, while 60 percent of production came from electric arc furnaces (EAF) that use more than 90 percent scrap. Typically, primary steel processing requires the use of a blast furnace to manufacture molten iron from iron ore, coal, and coke, utilizing fluxing agents to extract impurities, such as limestone. A BOF then transforms the molten iron (pig iron) into steel. An electrical arc furnace (EAF) is usually used by secondary production facilities, with scrap supplying the main supply. Scrap is melted in an EAF using electric arcs supplemented with combustion fueled by natural gas. With the exception of limited amounts of pig iron used as an input and waste, the high energy usage of a blast furnace is removed by secondary processing. Utilizing direct reduced iron (DRI), a method usually fueled by natural gas is another option to use a blast furnace to manufacture pig iron. Scrap continues to be the primary raw material used in EAFs, but in the raw material mix, DRI may become a more significant component.

Iron and steel scrap are known as scrap from home, old and new. During manufacturing, scrap is produced in the steel mill at home or in the mill and recycled in the same plant. Post-consumer scrap is old scrap. Along with appliances, machinery, worn-out train cars and tracks, destroyed steel buildings, and other steel items, the primary source of old scrap is abandoned vehicles. During the processing process, fresh scrap is processed.

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