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Integrated Minimill to Produce Aluminum from Scrap

Energy Research Company (ERCo)

Development of an Integrated Minimill for the Aluminum Industry: From Scrap to Product in One Step

Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$3,815,131
Location: 
Plainfield, NJ
Project Term: 
01/01/2014 to 09/30/2018
Project Status: 
ALUMNI
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: 

Energy Research Company (ERCo) is developing an automated Aluminum Integrated Minimill (AIM) that can produce finished components from mixed metal scrap. Unlike most current approaches, ERCo's AIM can distinguish and accurately sort multiple grades of aluminum scrap for recycling. ERCo's AIM reduces energy consumption in several ways. First, the technology would provide real-time feedback controls to improve the accuracy of the sorting process. The sorted scrap is then melted and cast. Further, ERCo's design replaces the inefficient dryers used in conventional processes with advanced, high-efficiency equipment. ERCo's AIM enables significantly more efficient and less expensive scrap sorting and aluminum recovery for casting.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, ERCo's Aluminum Integrated Minimill would enable the efficient and cost-effective sorting and recycling of scrap aluminum.

Security: 

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

Environment: 

Recycling aluminum would prevent the discharge of 2.7 million tons of CO2, reduce energy use by 84%, and save 9.8 billion kWh across the aluminum recycling industry each year.

Economy: 

Recycling aluminum in an Aluminum Integrated Minimill could save the aluminum industry $1.1 billion each year.

Innovation Update: 

(As of May 2018)
ERCo’s AIM consolidates aluminum alloy recycling into one streamlined process at a single facility located near the factory where scrap is processed, and where the certified aluminum product can be used without costly re-melting for transport between facilities. The team designed all of AIM’s components to boost energy efficiency and reduce emissions. Originally, the team’s sorter only shifted heavier metals like copper. But the team worked with another METALS performer, UHV Technologies, to integrate UHV’s aluminum sorter into its AIM. ERCo also developed a novel de-coater that uses high-velocity gas flows to separate and heat scrap pieces to de-coat materials at lower temperatures than other techniques. Overall, placing these processes under one roof could save more than 80% of the energy needed to make aluminum products, compared to conventional virgin aluminum processing methods.

As of January 2018, ERCo has raised $1.8M in follow-on funding and formed a joint venture, Melt Cognition, to further develop and commercialize its technology. Melt Cognition is currently raising funding to integrate the AIM components into a single pilot plant at a commercially operable aluminum processor. In addition, the team’s OnSpec technology is being licensed to Altek, a Pennsylvania-based test equipment manufacturer.

 

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

 

Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Christopher Atkinson
Project Contact: 
Mr. Robert De Saro
Partners
wTe
Release Date: 
9/19/2013