National Science Foundation
Novel Optoelectronic Sensor Technology Platform Leads to New Technologies for Advanced Materials Recycling
State: Massachusetts

National Recovery Technologies, Inc. (NRT) and wTe Corporation have developed a platform of technologies aimed at applying advanced optoelectronic sensors and computer analytical methods to the high-speed sorting of metals. The viability of the US metals industry is seriously threatened today by inexpensive metals and alloys supplied by overseas sources, particularly Asian and eastern European countries. To effectively compete in the United States, our metals industries must create alternative low cost indigenous sources of metal. Greater scrap usage presents just such an opportunity.

As one of the world’s largest consumers, the United States generates a large supply of non-ferrous (aluminum, copper, zinc, etc) metals in the form of scrap--more than 30 billion pounds annually. It is difficult to use a large percentage of scrap to produce new high grade alloys due to the scrap’s widely varying composition. If scrap metals could be accurately sorted to close compositional tolerances (perhaps even by alloy type), the proportion of scrap used in making new metal could be increased. This would provide many benefits, including reduced cost, less reliance on foreign virgin feedstock, energy savings, and emission of fewer pollutants. The U.S. scrap industry has done little to take advantage of computer technology. Most metal scrap separation is done today using antiquated, hand-and-eye sorting techniques. For obvious reasons, such labor intensive methods leave the United States at a competitive disadvantage from a worker safety and production cost standpoint. wTe Corporation (working with a consortium of other small business companies and universities) has developed and patented an entirely new platform of optoelectronic technologies capable of reliably and cost effectively sorting mixed nonferrous metals on a large scale. 

The new Spectramet® technology “fingerprints” objects (scrap metal) in milliseconds and then automatically sorts them at rates approaching 100 objects per second. This new technique represents a quantum leap in sorting methodology. By converting current mixtures of scrap metal into high grade specification alloys, more scrap can be recycled and re-used in the melting process, saving time and money and diminishing environmental impacts. This will help U.S. metals industries become more competitive and at the same time, reduce U.S. reliance on scarce strategic materials that today must be purchased abroad. Fully automated systems have been demonstrated at pilot scale, operating at capacities of several tons per day. Commercialization efforts are now underway for larger scale systems, integrating the entire platform of technologies. The technologies are not only applicable to metals, but can also be applied to identifying and sorting other materials.

Collaborator: National Recovery Technologies, Inc. (TN)

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