USA-based technology brand Ocean Insight has created a modular solution that can successfully sort light metal elements like aluminium and magnesium very quickly. This device, known as SpeedSorter, applies laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) to rapidly recognise alloy configuration as pieces of scrap pass through the analytic belt of the sensor.
Production of primary aluminium is extremely energy intensive, and it is laced with carbon emissions. This has prompted the bigger brands to incorporate recycled aluminium in their products, ultimately heightening the demand for sorting and recycling technologies. The production of secondary aluminium only uses 5 per cent of the energy used during primary aluminium production and can thus be termed ‘low-carbon aluminium’. Moreover, the rising prices of commodities such as natural fuel and gas have instigated the entire community to shift towards secondary aluminium.
Big players like Alcoa and Hydro have developed low-carbon aluminium lines for the production of their flagship low-carbon aluminium. Alcoa’s profile includes EcoLum and EcoDura, while Hydro boasts the revelation of Circal and Reduxa, all made from secondary aluminium.
Matt Kremens, the director of engineering at Ocean Applied Systems, commented: ‘Every situation is different! Our team can do an assessment based on the scrap intake at a particular site and advise on the economics and whether the SpeedSorter makes sense for the customer. We work closely with customers during the integration, setup, and commissioning phases of each project, with service offerings to keep systems running long into the future.”
SpeedSorter, which is absolutely dust-free and rugged, is designated for installations in existing lines since mounting the system is extremely user-friendly. One of the greatest features of the system is the simplicity of the blueprint with only a few moving parts.
In fact, the modernised aspect of the device makes the sorting system quite flexible as it can work relentlessly even if one line among the others fails to perform or is broken due to the use of its multi-sensor system.
SpeedSorter uses a powerful laser to make a series of sparks on the metal pieces as they pass by the conveyor belt. The laser ablates material from the piece of scrap, and this ablated material is consumed into a plasma, which we see as a spark (also called a ‘breakdown’). The light from the spark is analysed by an extremely fast spectrometer, identifying emissions from each of the elements in the alloy.
One by one, the elemental composition is understood by the device, and the sorted scrap pieces are flown separately through panels that recycle them, adding value to the end-of-life aluminium scrap.
The LIBS technology is on board the Nasa Mars rovers with a system developed by Los Alamos and the spectrometer technology provided by Ocean Insight. The Mars rover has been equipped with this technology where; it is used to collect rock samples from the face of Mars from a distance of seven metres max. Therefore the company can remain true to its claim of providing ‘out-of-the-world service’.