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Aluminum Recycling

Markets for Steel and Aluminum Scrap

| Author/ Editor: GIFA / Isabell Page

The resource and energy efficient use of scrap in foundries is an important topic in metallurgical plant construction. The latest trends will be presented at METEC and GIFA in Düsseldorf, Germany.

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The recycling industry’s value chain consists of collection systems, dismantling companies, metal dealers and scrap processors.
( Source: GIFA )

Metal consumer goods are the world record holders of the recycling economy. Refounding turns steel and aluminum scrap into high-quality secondary raw materials. Recycling has a positive impact on the environment and conserves natural raw material resources. The resource and energy efficient use of scrap in foundries and steel mills is a significant topic in metallurgical plant engineering. Exhibitors will present trends and developments at METEC and GIFA as well as NEWCAST and THERMPROCESS at the exhibition centre in Düsseldorf from June 25 to 29, 2019.

The Phoenix from the Melt

Many products - from the washing machine to the car to the beverage can - are reborn after the melting furnace. This rebirth by fire is carried out with a separation of steel and aluminum according to type. Melts in metal recycling companies, steel and aluminum mills and foundries transform scrap into a high-quality secondary raw material.

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Metals, predominantly steel and aluminum are the number one enablers in an ecological recycling economy thanks to their multi-recycling characteristics. The period of time after which disused steel and aluminum products return to the material cycle varies widely. A beverage can is only in circulation for a few weeks, a car sometimes lasts twenty years and more. Whilst a steel bridge can still fulfil its function after a hundred years, more and more reinforced concrete bridges are slated for demolition after only 35 years. Meanwhile, the reinforced steel gained from the demolition can be fully recycled.

Satisfying Scrap Supply

The recycling industry’s value chain consists of collection systems, dismantling companies, metal dealers and scrap processors. “The supply situation on the scrap markets is satisfying,” says Dr. Heinz-Jürgen Büchner, Managing Director Industrials & Automotive at IKB Deutsche Industriebank AG. For the time being, the trade dispute with the USA will not alter this fact. “Even before the punitive tariffs on steel and aluminum became effective, the domestic price level on the steel market in the USA was considerably lower than that of the world market as well as that of the EU,” says the IKB expert on raw materials. We can therefore expect imports to continue to be profitable despite a surcharge of 25% import duty on steel and 10% on aluminum. “In addition, American steel and aluminum processors have by and large passed on the price increases to the end customer,” adds Büchner.

However, Turkey – one of the most important purchasers of American steel scrap – has ordered less in the USA and more in Europe. “China has also taken to teasing and has left imported scrap in the Chinese ports of entry for an extremely long time as well as deliberately dealt with it slowly,” says Büchner.

On the German market for steel and iron scrap (fe scrap), IKB expert Büchner expects an amount of old and demolition scrap usual for this time of year. “Recently, the amount of new scrap was slightly less due to interruptions in production at a number of automotive manufacturers as well as their suppliers, caused by the transition to new test cycles. Nevertheless, the supply to European steel manufacturers and foundries is still secure,” says the IKB raw materials expert.

Aluminum Scrap: Recycling with the Lowest Energy Input

Aluminum can also practically be recycled endlessly. The recycling rate of aluminum without quality loss in the most important areas of use lies between 95 and 100 %. One driver for aluminum is lightweight construction, especially for cast parts in the automotive industry. “Whilst the worldwide production of cast iron materials has increased by a mere 50% since 1999, the output of aluminum casting has increased by a factor of more than two-and-a-half,” explains IKB analyst Büchner. As early as 2016, the global aluminum casting production has achieved a new production record of just under 18 million tons, tendency rising. According to Büchner, the cast iron sector will benefit from part of the expected growth caused by the increased use of aluminum in automotive manufacturing.

In the long term, demand for aluminum will increase. Currently however, the increase in new capacities for primary aluminum is quite small. This is why the expert Büchner assumes that there will only be a slight expansion of production opportunities in the next five years. However, additional growth is necessary in recycling aluminum production. “This indicates an accordingly higher demand for aluminum scrap,” concludes Büchner.

According to estimates by the International aluminum Institute (IAI), in 2016 around 17 million tons of aluminum old scrap were accrued worldwide. This number will increase to around 21 million tons in 2020, according to IAI. This corresponds to a share of more than a third of today’s global output of primary aluminum. Today, around 20 % of our aluminum demand worldwide is covered by old scrap. Besides old scrap, new scrap is also generated. Some examples are cutting scrap in the production of semi-finished goods, sprues from casting foundries and chips from the mechanical processing of semi-finished goods and products.

Recycled aluminum is produced in the form of casting and wrought alloys. With regard to quality, there is hardly any difference between alloys made of primary metal and those made of recycled aluminum.

For the aluminum cycle of reusable materials, scrap supply is the bottleneck. aluminum products can last for a very long time. aluminum windows, for example, can reach a lifespan of sometimes far more than 50 years. Around 75 % of all aluminum that was ever produced is still in use today. Part of this has already run through several recycling processes, according to aluminum manufacturer Hydro.

With a production of around 700,000 tons, the German aluminum recycling industry is one of the leaders in Europe. In Germany, the production of aluminum made of used products has long since far exceeded production using primary aluminum. The recycling rate has reached around 95 % both in the automotive field and the construction sector and over 80 % in packaging. Throughout Europe, close to 95 % of aluminum scrap is also recycled from vehicles.

Consequently, the recycling industry plays a significant role in aluminum’s life cycle. The amount of recycled metal is increasing and remelting plants have new and improved processes to reduce emissions caused by melting aluminum scrap. aluminum companies such as Hydro continue to invest in the expansion of recycling capacities. To do this, they install state-of-the-art plant technology.

With regard to energy, aluminum manufacture using secondary aluminum is hard to beat: A mere 5 % of the initial amount of energy used are required to manufacture aluminum from recycling material. In contrast, producing primary aluminum using bauxite / aluminum ore is extremely energy intensive. In Germany, the production of one ton of primary aluminum requires less than 15 MWh of electricity. In other countries, the required energy consumption can be considerably higher. The larger part of aluminum produced in Germany is made of secondary aluminum.

This article was first published by GIFA.

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