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Metals are 100% recyclable and their reuse is a standard practice in the metal industry. Rejected parts, chips, scrap… from products and components once their  service life has ended, are usually reintroduced into the manufacturing process, mainly through melting. In this case, if there are no mixtures with other materials, ferrous alloys, aluminum, copper, etc. can be used to manufacture the same product without loss of quality.

However, the same does not occur with alloying or micro-alloying elements that can be lost or diluted during the fusion process when different qualities of metals are mixed. In this case, there is a “downcycling” risk , that is, a risk the recycled material to have inferior properties to the original one. Thus, on the one hand, there is a loss of valuable alloying elements (such as lithium, silver, nickel…); but also, these valuable elements become impurities or problematic trace elements for future applications. This problem grows as progress is made in the development of new materials and manufacturing processes and the manufacturing of multi-material components and the hybridization and convergence of manufacturing processes increase.

Avoiding “downcycling” is a growing need for the metal recovery industry to improve its sustainability, as well as a key strategy to reduce the dependence on external supply of certain materials. To achieve this, it is essential to develop and implement new technologies for the classification, recovery and recycling of metallic materials.

In this report by the “Teknopolis” TV program, researchers Lucía Unamunzaga, head of the Environment and Sustainability team at AZTERLAN, and Ana Fernández, R&D projects manager, together with research teams from the Tekniker and Tecnalia technology centers, share some strategies for the recovery and revalorization of metallic materials that are being developed by AZTERLAN. They also offer some keys regarding the current the scenario of the metal recovery industry in the Basque Country and in Europe.


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