News | January 22, 2021

Recycle Metals Instead Of Extracting Natural Resources - With Laser-Based Sensor Technology

To strengthen the competitiveness of the industry in terms of raw material supply, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT and Cronimet developed Ferroleg. GmbH jointly developed a laser-based sorting process for metal scrap as part of the BMBF-funded project »PLUS«. A new sensor makes the recycling of metallic raw materials many times more efficient than was previously possible. The EU project REVaMP goes one step further. The experts at Fraunhofer ILT have been contributing their expertise in the field of materials analysis to the European level since January 2020, thus making an important international contribution to securing a resource-efficient supply of raw materials over the long term.

The production location Germany and thus our social prosperity depend to a large extent on the availability of metallic raw materials such as chromium, nickel, copper or cobalt. Due to the increasing global demand, however, these are an increasingly scarce commodity. Material recycling therefore plays a decisive role. Due to the lack of mineral resources, it is the most important source of supply for metallic raw materials in Germany and Europe.

Better balance - ecologically and economically
Advantage of material recycling: used, no longer usable metal scrap such as pipes, sheet metal, tools, old cables, electrical and electronic scrap as well as old parts from household or demolition can be melted down and reused with almost no loss of quality. Due to the high value of the materials, the process is ideally self-sustaining - and produces significantly less CO2 than the primary process: the expensive, technically complex extraction of mineral resources under sometimes extremely critical framework conditions and their transport to destinations around the world are eliminated.

The crux of the matter: Both the price and the availability of scrap metal, as well as their recycling rate, depend on numerous factors that are mutually dependent. These include fluctuating prices on the primary market, the life cycle of products and their collection rate, losses in the process, technical recyclability and the value of the respective alloy. The global markets are correspondingly volatile. If the price of primary metals rises, the availability of scrap falls and vice versa. This harbors high risks for companies.

More income through the use of lasers
With this in mind, Fraunhofer ILT and Cronimet Ferroleg. GmbH from Karlsruhe developed a new type of laser-based sorting process. The sensor technology developed as part of the PLUS project funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) makes the detection and sorting of alloys in scrap metal much faster and more accurate. In 2020 the pilot system at the Cronimet Ferroleg location in Karlsruhe was put into operation - and has proven itself! Among other things, it is designed for processing high-speed steels, or HSS for high-speed steels.

HSS steels contain valuable alloying elements such as cobalt and can be found in every hardware store. For example in drills or milling heads, ”says Dr. Cord Fricke-Begemann, who is responsible for the field of material analysis at Fraunhofer ILT and, supported by doctoral student Fredrik Schreckenberg, led the PLUS project.

Common methods are limited to the laborious manual measurement of a few alloys. With laser emission spectroscopy (LIBS), however, the Fraunhofer ILT uses a technology that can identify more than 20 special alloys even in small scrap parts - automatically, quickly and without contact. "In this way, we can process more scrap and achieve a higher degree of purity in a shorter time," says Fricke-Begemann. "We are thus building an important bridge between research and industry."

Future technology for Europe
As part of the EU project “Retrofitting Equipment for Efficient Use of Variable Feedstock in Metal Making Processes” (REVaMP), which was launched in 2020, Fraunhofer ILT is now bringing its expertise in the field of materials analysis to the European level. The project, which is designed to run for three and a half years, is supported by an international association of companies and research institutions from Spain, Poland and Germany. "The aim is to put the knowledge gathered in the PLUS project on a universal basis, regardless of the respective alloys," says Fricke-Begemann. "We want to build a sensor that can be built into existing industrial plants to make the recycling process fundamentally more efficient."

What is the composition and properties of the alloys to be recycled? How much lead does the delivered material contain? When does a substance become molten and how much energy has to be added? These questions are the focus of REVaMP and will be answered more precisely in the future. If successful, this would make a significant contribution to making Europe less dependent on the global raw material markets - and to significantly improving the resource efficiency of companies.

Project PLUS: "Pilot plant for laser-assisted sorting of special alloys"

The PLUS project, which runs from January 1, 2017 to June 30, 2020, was funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) as part of the funding measure "r + Impuls - Innovative Technologies for Resource Efficiency - Impulses for Industrial Resource Efficiency".

Project partner:

  • Cronimet Ferroleg. GmbH, Karlsruhe
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT, Aachen

REVaMP project: "Retrofitting Equipment for Efficient Use of Variable Feedstock in Metal Making Processes"
The REVaMP project, which runs from January 1, 2020 to June 30, 2023, is funded by the European Union as part of the Horizon 2020 program.

Project partner:

  • Cronimet Ferroleg. GmbH, Karlsruhe
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT, Aachen
  • REVaMP project: "Retrofitting Equipment for Efficient Use of Variable Feedstock in Metal Making Processes"
  • The REVaMP project, which runs from January 1, 2020 to June 30, 2023, is funded by the European Union as part of the Horizon 2020 program.
  • Project partner:
  • VDEh-Betriebsforschungsinstitut (BFI), Germany (project coordination)
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT, Germany
  • RWTH Aachen University, Germany
  • National Center for Nuclear Research (NCBJ), Poland
  • Azterlan Metallurgy Research Center, Spain
  • Eurecat Technology Center, Spain
  • Cartif Technology Center, Spain
  • Laser Analytical Systems & Automation GmbH, Germany
  • SYSKON - Systemy Kontroli Procesów Przemysłowych, Poland
  • OTJ Polon, Poland
  • GHI Hornos Industriales, Spain
  • ArcelorMittal Bremen GmbH, Germany
  • Sidenor Specialty Steels, Spain
  • Grupal Art, Spain
  • REFIAL Aluminum Refinery, Spain
  • Exide Technologies, Spain

Source: Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT