Making Recycling More Efficient with Laser-Based Sensor Technology

Rachel Smith, Applied Technology Review | Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Rachel Smith, Applied Technology Review

The Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology and Cronimet Ferroleg have created a laser-powered sorting process for metal recycling, making it more efficient than previously possible.

FREMONT, CA: Recycling has become increasingly essential to society and industry to meet the objectives of cost reduction, efficient management of limited resources, and mitigated landfill utilization. Recycling metal mitigates pollution, saves resources, lessens waste going to landfills, and prevents the destruction of habitats from mining new ore. There are clear benefits of recycling: Used metal scrap that can no longer be used can be melted down, sorted by metal or alloy, and reused. Due to the materials' value, the process pays for itself – and generates significantly less CO2 than the primary process. The expensive, technically daunting extraction of mineral resources under sometimes highly vital conditions and their transport to destinations worldwide is no longer needed.

The core of the matter is that both the price and availability of metal scrap and its recycling rate rely on several mutually dependent factors. These include fluctuating prices on the market, the life cycle of products and their collection rate, losses in operation, technical recyclability, and the alloy's value in question. The global markets are correspondingly volatile. If the price of primary metals increases, the availability of scrap falls, and vice versa. This comprises high risks for companies.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology, together with Cronimet Ferroleg from Karlsruhe, Germany, has created a novel laser-based sorting operation. The sensor technology, created as part of the PLUS project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), makes identifying and sorting alloys in metal scrap much faster and more accurate. Among other things, it is tailored to process high-speed steels or HSS for short. The project, scheduled to perform for three and a half years, is helped by an international alliance of firms and research institutes from Spain, Poland, and Germany. The objectives are to put the knowledge collected in the PLUS project on a universal basis, regardless of the alloys involved. The team wants to build a sensor deployed in existing industrial plants to make the recycling process fundamentally efficient.

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