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Non-ferrous metals

Source of recycled non-ferrous metals

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Melting non-ferrous metal (© BMG, 2017)

About 20.600 t of non-ferrous metals are recovered from waste electrical and electronic equipment in Austria each year. This is equivalent to the mass of about 1.9 million aluminium wheel rims, for example. Laid edge-to-edge, those wheel rims would cover the distance from Vienna to Frankfurt.

The main non-ferrous metals recovered from used devices and appliances are aluminium and copper, but also include zinc, nickel, and small quantities of precious metals like platinum and gold. In fact, a tonne of discarded mobile phones contains more gold than a tonne of raw gold ore. The main non-ferrous metals recycled from collected batteries are lead, zinc and manganese.

The following chart gives an overview of the proportion of total nonferrous metals that are recycled from each of the five collection categories for waste electrical and electronic equipment, and from the two collection and processing categories for batteries.

 
Non-ferrous metals Mass [t] Proportion [%]
Large electrical appliances 2.255 10,95
Small appliances and devices 3.918 19,03
Display devices 1.033 5,02
Gas-discharge lamps 40 0,19
Refrigerators and freezers 757 3,68
Device batteries 1.152 5,60
Vehicle batteries 11.433 55,53
Total 20.588 100,00

Source of recovered non-ferrous metals (2017 data)

 

Source of recovered non-ferrous metals (2017 data)

 

Recycling processes for non-ferrous metals

In the process of recycling waste electrical and electronic equipment, the collected equipment from these categories is broken down into small pieces. This process uses machines like large-capacity shredders (see “Large electrical  appliances”), smashers or cross-flow shredders. (see www.andritz.com/products-en/group/recycling/cross-flow-shredder-qz) For more information on how non-ferrous metals are recovered from batteries, see the sections on “Device batteries” and “Vehicle batteries”.

Non-ferrous metals (primarily aluminium and copper) are recovered from waste electrical and electronic equipment with a non-ferrous metal separator or an eddy current separator. The underlying principle of an eddy current separator is the effect by which a voltage is induced in non-ferrous metals when they are exposed to an alternating magnetic field. This voltage creates an eddy current. The eddy current, in turn, generates a magnetic field opposite to that of the inducing magnetic field (Lenz’s law). This gives rise to repulsive forces that throw the non-ferrous metals off of the conveyor belt. A brief technical description can be found e.g. on Steinert‘s (steinertglobal.com/de/magnete-sensorsortierer/magnetseparation/wirbelstromscheider/). Non-ferrous metals can also be separated with a sink/swim process or X-ray sorting systems. (e.g. Steinert‘s, steinertglobal.com/de/magnete-sensorsortierer/sensorsortierung/).

Non-ferrous metals are reused as valuable secondary raw materials. In Austria, copper is recovered from recycled materials at Montanwerke Brixlegg (see www.montanwerke-brixlegg.com), and aluminium is recovered at AMAG in Ranshofen (see www.amag.at).