XRF (X-Ray Fluorescence) analyzers are commonly used in scrap metal recycling because they provide a fast and accurate way to identify and sort different types of metals. Sorting is necessary to provide customers with the correct materials as the quality of the next product could be compromised if the metal is mis-identified.
Scrap metal recycling involves processing and reusing different types of metal scraps, which can be derived from various sources such as automobiles, appliances, construction sites, manufacturing plants, electronic waste, and more. These scraps often contain a mix of different types of metals, and the value of the scrap depends on the type and quality of the metals present.
The USGS reports that steelmaking and foundry industries in the United States “are highly dependent upon the ready availability of scrap from manufacturing operations and from the recovery of products that are no longer used or needed. The steel industry has been recycling steel scrap for more than 150 years…. [and] The primary source of obsolete steel is the automobile.”
When it comes to automobiles, it’s not just the steel that is useful. The catalyst component of a catalytic converter is usually platinum (Pt), along with palladium (Pd), and rhodium (Rh). These platinum group metals, or PGMs, are extremely rare but have a broad range of applications in addition to catalytic converters, so they are valuable materials. Platinum, for example, is used in laboratory and dental equipment, electrical contacts and electrodes, and jewelry, while palladium plays a key role in fuel cell technology.
Electronic waste is also a key focus for the recycling industry. With the worldwide focus on Green Energy solutions, lithium-ion battery production is in the forefront. More battery production but a shortage of raw materials means more battery recycling opportunities. More ‘’urban mining” will be utilized to save landfill space and turn batteries into revenue by recycling target elements: Nickel (Ni), Cobalt (Co), Manganese (Mn) [from cathode material], Copper (Cu), Aluminum (Al) [residue from substrate foils], Iron (Fe) [from casing or Lithium Iron phosphate (LFP)], and High Performance Materials (High P) [which indicates Lithium Iron phosphate (LFP) materials].
Of course, the scrapyard contains many items that have a combination of metals and non-metal items that must be sorted and separated. That’s where handheld XRF analyzers come in.
XRF analyzers work by emitting X-rays onto the metal sample, causing the atoms in the metal to emit characteristic X-rays that are detected and analyzed by the device. This allows for the identification and quantification of different elements in the sample, including the type and quantity of metals present. (Learn more about X-ray Fluorescence Spectroscopy.)
In scrap metal recycling, handheld XRF analyzers are used to quickly and accurately identify the different types of metals present in a sample, such as copper, aluminum, brass, stainless steel, and others. This helps to sort and separate the metal scraps based on their value, making the recycling process more efficient and cost-effective. Additionally, XRF analyzers can help identify and separate potentially hazardous materials, such as lead and mercury, ensuring proper disposal and reducing environmental hazards.
In addition to XRF technology, LIBS technology is also utilized in many recycling facilities. LIBS (Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy) is another analytical chemistry technique used for quantitative elemental analysis. Handheld LIBS analyzers use a tightly focused laser to ablate the surface of a sample to form a plasma. The plasma, which then atomizes and excites the sample, emits light that is transmitted through fiber optics and enters the spectrometer through a slit. The light then interacts with a diffraction grating and splits the light into its component wavelengths. The detector produces a spectrum from the sample which can be analyzed, and the concentration of each element determined.
Both handheld XRF analyzers and LIBS analyzers are used in scrap metal recycling to verify elements of interest in virtually all types of metal alloys, from trace levels to commercially pure metals, and are capable of distinguishing alloy grades that are nearly identical in composition to one another. LIBS analyzers, however, are more suited for carbon analysis of metals and alloys.
When the exact chemical composition of scrap is uncertain, quality, safety, and regulatory compliance are at risk. To help ensure product integrity made of recycled metals and maximize profit, scrap metal operations utilize handheld X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) technologies for accurate, reliable material identification.