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Electromagnetic Light Metal Sorting

University of Utah
ARPA-E Award: 
Salt Lake City, UT
Project Term: 
01/10/2014 to 03/19/2018
Project Status: 
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 

Recycling light metals such as aluminum, titanium, and magnesium from scrap is primarily done manually, making it an inefficient and expensive process. Existing automated technologies are unable to distinguish different types of alloys. Innovation in light metal recycling is crucial because light metals can be used to reduce the weight of cars and aircraft, which could significantly reduce both energy use and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from transportation. Cost-effective scrap recycling could dramatically reduce the cost of light-weight metals, such as those used for aircraft construction and vehicle light-weighting.

Project Innovation + Advantages: 

The University of Utah is developing a light metal sorting system that can distinguish multiple grades of scrap metal using an adjustable and varying magnetic field. Current sorting technologies based on permanent magnets can only separate light metals from iron-based metals and tend to be inefficient and expensive. The University of Utah's sorting technology utilizes an adjustable magnetic field rather than a permanent magnet to automate scrap sorting, which could offer increased accuracy, less energy consumption, lower CO2 emissions, and reduced costs. Due to the flexibility of this design, the system could be set to sort for any one metal at a time rather than being limited to sorting for a specific metal.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, the University of Utah's sorting prototype would enable the recycling of light metals by determining alloy grades, which could reduce the need for manufacturing new metals.


Light-weighting vehicles to improve fuel efficiency could reduce U.S. dependence on foreign fossil fuel resources used in the transportation industry.


Light metal recycling from scrap consumes less energy and produces lower CO2 emissions than conventional methods used in light metal extraction.


Recycling light metal scrap can be considerably less expensive than manufacturing new metals, enabling cost-competitive integration of light metals into vehicles and aircraft.

Innovation Update: 

(As of May 2018)

The University of Utah has developed Electrodynamic sorting (EDX) to rapidly sort scrap metal for recycling. The EDX technology is similar to traditional eddy current separators in that it uses time-varying magnetic fields to sort scrap, but instead of mechanically rotating a fixed drum of permeant magnets, EDX uses a fixed array of stationary electromagnets. Without the limitation of moving parts, it can achieve far higher frequencies of magnetic excitation and recover far smaller particles of scrap metal. Tests demonstrated that EDX can sort scrap metal ranging in size from 1 to 30mm at a rate of .25 tons per hour. EDX can also sort nonferrous metals by both conductivity and density and because the process is clean and dry, the environmental concerns that arise from floatation-based methods are eliminated. EDX systems are expected to be cost-effective to operate, with operating costs as low as $1.00-2.00/t for energy and labor.


In 2017, the University of Utah team spun-out a new company, EDX Magnetics LLC to commercialize the technology. The start-up intends to license the intellectual property of EDX from the University of Utah and manufacture the basic drive electronics, such as the magnetic cores and amplifiers. A second joint venture company will likely be needed to manufacture the conveyer system, catch basins, and feeding mechanisms.


For a detailed assessment of the Utah project and impact, please click here.


ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Isik Kizilyalli
Project Contact: 
Prof. Raj Rajamani
Eriez Manufacturing Company
Release Date: