According to the EU WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) directive, 75% to 80% of all discarded electronic appliances in the European Union should now be recycled. One of the reasons for this is to recover the large amount of valuable materials inside these appliances, such as copper and precious metals.
Until now, recycling these products in some parts of the EU often meant manually opening the discarded objects and tediously sorting the materials inside by hand.
However this not only takes a lot of time, it is a tough physical job because the workers usually have to dismantle the appliances, some of which weigh tonnes, with a hammer and a screwdriver whilst on their knees. Also, lots of the valuable materials are lost because they are difficult to separate from the rest of the material.
Hellenic Recycling Center S.A. (EKAN), which has a contract through the Greek Ministry of the Environment to serve as a central appliance disposal company in southern Greece, has now adopted an automatic method with which large quantities of electronic scrap can be processed for recycling.
The shredder that has been installed was developed by engineers of the company Erdwich Zerkleinerungssysteme GmbH of Kaufering, Bavaria, Germany. Be it washing machines or motors, the shredding system can “gently process” six tonnes of electronic scrap every hour.
Washing machines, electric ovens and beverage vending machines comprise part of the 25,000 tonnes of electronic scrap that is sent to the EKAN facility in Corinth, Greece, every year.
Every year the company Hellenic Recycling Center S.A. (EKAN S.A.), which was founded in 2002, processes around 25,000 tonnes of large electrical appliances, including washing machines, electric ovens and electronic control and switch cabinets.
The company is the central disposal point in southern Greece and bills itself as the largest recycler of electronic scrap in the country. In 2004, EKAN joined the Appliances Recycling S.A. and is therefore a disposal company for electrical and electronic scrap that has been authorised by the Greek Ministry of the Environment.
The agreement has helped make the company a market leader in the WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) recycling field. EKAN employs more than 100 people.
Erdwich Zerkleinerungssysteme GmbH was founded by Hans Erdwich as a machine and metal engineering company in 1971. The Kaufering, Bavaria, Germany-based company has a workforce of 35 employees.
The three core business areas of this machine and plant engineering company are recycling and reprocessing of valuable materials; the destruction of special waste of all kinds; and the shredding of waste or recyclable material to reduce its volume.
In the refrigerator recycling system field, Erdwich GmbH bills itself as one of the top three companies in the world.
More than one-third of this material is steel or iron and one-fifth is plastic. However the focus here is on the valuable materials, such as copper, brass, aluminium and stainless steel, which are found in places such as the drum inside washing machines or in the motors, wires and cables. “It is particularly difficult to separate the recyclable materials in large appliances of this kind,” says Norbert Streicher, the project manager at Erdwich responsible for the EKAN installation.
Until the Erdwich installation, the workers at EKAN had been opening the individual appliances tediously by hand in order to remove the various components.
This not only took a long time but was very inefficient; also, the employees were exposed to a high risk of injury when handling these heavy appliances and the fragile materials.
This procedure has now been automated. The Erdwich shredder type HT520/2-2000, which was specially developed for appliances and electronic scrap, can process large appliances, up to a weight of 450 kilograms (992 pounds), at a capacity of six tonnes per hour.
“It is very important when handling these appliances that they are opened carefully to prevent the parts being destroyed by toxic substances and to prevent these substances being released,” says Streicher.
The engineers at Erdwich have therefore come up with a shredding method that carefully tears open the appliance thanks to the slow rotating speed and a calm, low-vibration working principle, thereby allowing the parts inside to fall out without being damaged. “At the same time, the method has to be designed so that it is not sensitive to glass, iron and concrete,” says the project manager.
Every ripper shaft is moved separately via a high-quality electro-hydraulic drive and is controlled electrically via an automation device made by Austria-based SPS Automation. “This allows both the speed and also the forward-backwards cycles of the shafts to be carefully adjusted for every application,” says Streicher.
Thanks to the ripper segments that can be exchanged separately, the operator can set the required part sizes and edge lengths of the output individually. For example, a setting of 100 millimetres by 100 millimetres or 300 times 300 millimetres can be selected to suit either downstream machine technology or for subsequent manual sorting.
If the ripper shows signs of wear, the blades can be welded on within the machine, which keeps maintenance costs very low.
Minds and Machines
The electronic scrap delivered to EKAN is initially picked up by grabbers and is transported on conveyor belts to the funnel of the shredder, which has an opening of around 2,000 millimetres by 1,200 millimetres (78 inches by 47 inches).
After the scrap has been gently shredded, a magnet separates the liberated iron and steel material. Then the various materials are sorted manually into two separate cabins. In the first work area, where the iron and steel pieces are sent, the employees pick out the valuable materials, such as copper. The remaining and intact steel and iron is baled and sent to its melting destination.
In the second cabin, trained workers sort the mixed material to remove free and intact pollutants, such as batteries, mercury, condensers and other materials like cables or stainless steel components.
The sorting cabins are attached at a higher level so that the employees can simply throw the collected materials into the respective containers via openings in the floor.
After the manual sorting process, the remaining materials land in a screening station with an integrated separation system. Here, the small mixed and type-sorted plastics, nonferrous metal mixes, copper and stainless steel parts and also the broken glass are separated.
A granulator then shreds the material to a predefined size so that the machine can easily and automatically sort the plastics and metals in a second sorting system. “This ensures that no valuable materials are lost,” says George Tzinis, head of engineering at EKAN. “We have also been able to ensure that no pollutants escape into the environment.”
The collected valuable materials, in particular the increasingly valued copper and also gold, silver and palladium, are sold to highly specialised companies that use these materials to make parts again for new electrical appliances—for households, the entertainment industry and telecommunications.
This article was submitted by Munich-based Pressebüro Beatrix Gebhardt-Seele on behalf of Erdwich Zerkleinerungssysteme GmbH and EKAN S.A.
There has been little incentive for any strengthening in demand for most nonferrous metals throughout Europe and Asia. Another factor is that with much of Western Europe in a difficult economic situation, financing has become more difficult.
A number of European scrap metal recyclers say the uncertainty over the economic health of many banks is creating a cascading effect, with banks less willing to provide loans to companies, which in turn is forcing many of these same companies to carry less inventory on hand. An end result is less demand for most types of nonferrous scrap from processors throughout Europe.
In the July Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) Non-Ferrous Mirror, Anton van Genuchten of the Dutch scrap company Reukema Blocq & Maneschijn says some scrap processing facilities in his region are operating at 50% to 60% capacity. Van Genuchten adds that the secondary aluminium market is under pressure and that producers are “no longer able to make a forecast for the coming months; they live from hand to mouth.”
During the BIR’s recent spring meeting, van Genuchten noted that “scarce supply” in Europe is limiting downward pressure on scrap prices.
Adding to the challenging environment in Europe, the Chinese economy, which had been growing at near double-digit levels over the past several years, appears to be decelerating in 2012. This retrenching in China has resulted in less demand for metals such as copper and stainless steel scrap.
European scrap dealers not only are seeing lower demand from Asian buyers, but they are seeing a sharp increase in container freight rates for shipments to China, which is further reducing their orders.
Along with higher shipping costs, there is a growing opinion that it is becoming far more challenging to ship containers into the country. With concerns over the quality of some container shipments, there continue to be reports that customs agents at Chinese ports are spending more time ensuring that shipments meet environmental criteria. Ultimately, this is slowing down the total process, adding to the downward pressure on a range of metals.
The Indian market, also an end market for a host of nonferrous metals, has been suffering from a recent drop in the rupee’s devaluation. According to a number of sources the Indian currency saw a 25% devaluation against the U.S. dollar, making shipments from the United States to India much more expensive.
The Middle East also has been hit with some of the collateral damage from India’s currency woes as a growing amount of nonferrous scrap purchased by India comes from the Middle East.
With little activity through most parts of Europe and demand slowing through most of Asia, several sources say there are greater opportunities to ship material from Europe to the United States.
Aluminium markets continue to struggle with slack demand throughout all regions of the world. While the automotive industry has been a bright spot for aluminium, prices for the metal continue to languish at low prices throughout the world. The grade recently touched a multi-year low. Due to the slide, some scrap metal recyclers are opting to inventory more of the material in anticipation of higher prices.
According to a Dow Jones news report, since 2007 global aluminium production has exceeded demand by 9.31 million tons. The report notes that Jean Simon, president and CEO of Rio Tinto Alcan, says that with aluminium prices hovering at around a two-year low, only about half of the aluminium smelters in the world are presently profitable.
Meanwhile, at press time there are reports that Rio Tinto Alcan has reached a deal with 800 union workers at its Alma, Quebec, aluminium smelter in Canada.
If the union workers agree to the deal it could end a labor dispute that began Dec. 30, 2011, when the company locked out its employees after failing to reach an agreement.
Copper markets continue to be volatile, although there appears to be a trend toward the downside. There are several spot markets that have been increasing their purchases, but for the most part the overall trend appears to be “wait and see.” Several scrap metal recyclers say that the near-term outlook is murky at best. Because of this, many are looking to keep as little inventory on hand as possible out of fear of a much sharper price drop later this summer.
In China, one recent plan to build a secondary copper smelter in a western province has been met with significant resistance from residents of the area.
According to multiple news reports, a plan by the Chinese company Hongda Group to build a $1.65 billion molybdenum copper project in Sichuan Province was canceled after residents protested concerning the pollution risks to the surrounding area.
After initially saying construction of the copper smelter would be suspended, government officials now say that the smelter would no longer be built at all in Shifang city in Sichuan Province, according to Reuters.
TMS International Corp., Pittsburgh, has landed several mill services contracts that will bring the company more than $91 million in revenue over the length of the agreements. The contracts signed involve serving new and existing customers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), France, Mexico, South Africa and the United States.
TMS, the parent company of Tube City IMS Corp., says the contracts entail making “aggregate growth capital investments of about $13 million.”
According to a TMS news release, the company has received a mill services contract with a new customer in Tennessee and has expanded its relationship with an existing customer in Alabama by selling a new service. The services TMS will provide to the Tennessee client, which begins in the third quarter of 2012, includes scrap and slag handling, slag sales and metal recovery. The new contract in Alabama, which is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2013, expands the company’s slag processing metal recovery services currently in place, adding scrap receiving, inspection, handling and charge bucket loading.
In Monterrey and Monclova, Mexico, TMS International has augmented its services with existing customers by cross-selling additional internal transportation and logistics services for semi-finished and finished products. Similarly, in South Africa, the company has cross-sold the processing and metal reclamation of an existing large backlog of unprocessed slag. This additional service will help the customer to reclaim metal units and generate a clean “aggregate” product for various industrial applications.
In France and the UAE, the company has expanded its services to increase the volume of handling and sorting of finished plate products and melt shop services.
“We are delighted to add a significant new customer to our client base and are very pleased to expand our business with existing customers,” says Raymond Kalouche, chief operating officer and president of the Mill Services Group. “These contract wins demonstrate TMS International’s ongoing commitment to creating value for our customers in all business environments and providing excellent service. As one of the leaders in our industry, our team continues to focus on safety, the environment and developing cost-effective solutions for our customers globally.”
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