XRF technology has become a game-changing tool for scrap recyclers worldwide, offering precision, efficiency, and safety in an industry that demands nothing less.
By Peter Faulkner

When it comes to scrap recycling, efficiency and accuracy are paramount. Scrap recyclers constantly face the challenge of identifying and sorting various materials, each with its own unique composition. Enter X-ray fluorescence (XRF) technology—a revolutionary tool that has transformed the scrap recycling industry. In this article, we explore the seven compelling reasons why XRF is the invaluable ally every scrap recycler needs.


Vanta Element™ handheld XRF analyzer for affordable alloy identification and scrap sorting. Images courtesy of Evident Scientific



#1: Precise Elemental Analysis
XRF technology offers scrap recyclers a rapid and nondestructive way to determine the precise elemental composition of materials. This means you can instantly identify the presence and percentage of valuable metals such as nickel, cobalt*, copper, aluminum, and gold in a sample without destroying it.

Rapidly sorting hundreds of diverse alloy types is its strongest ability. Selecting the correct XRF analyzer based on the alloys or elements being recycled is essential. Choices include the type of detector and X-ray tube. XRF manufacturers can provide guidance on the best analyzer features for the application.

Depending on the model, XRF analyzers can also be calibrated for precious metals analysis of jewelry and industrial products, such as automotive catalysts. Recycling of automotive products, such as catalytic converters for gas- or diesel-fueled vehicles and lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles, can be optimized using specially calibrated handheld XRF analyzers.


Testing catalytic converter scrap with a Vanta™ handheld XRF analyzer for fast and accurate sorting.


Vanta handheld XRF analyzer equipped with a silicon drift detector (SDD) and identifies alloys in seconds.

#2: Enhancing Sorting Accuracy
Scrap recyclers can boost their sorting accuracy significantly by incorporating XRF into their operations. This technology enables real-time analysis for efficient separation of materials, resulting in higher quality scrap products and fewer errors in material categorization.

Handheld XRF analyzers equipped with a silicon drift detector (SDD) have the ability to measure the light elements of magnesium (Mg), aluminum (Al), silicon (Si), sulfur (S), and phosphorus (P) for more extensive alloy grade separations.

A commonly used aluminum alloy, 3003, is recognizable based on the manganese (Mn) content. For years, sorting 3003 from other aluminum alloy series has been a straightforward task for handheld XRF. Current handheld XRF can further separate 3003 from 3004 and 3005 based on small amounts of magnesium (Mg) content.


Scrap containing a mix of alloys.

#3: Streamlining Quality Control
Quality control is vital in the scrap recycling industry to maintain the integrity of materials. Handheld XRF analyzers can quickly verify the composition of incoming scrap, confirming that it meets the specified standards and reducing the risk of contamination or subpar products.

Consider the following examples where the control output for a customer needs (1) lead-free (Pb-free) copper or brass to meet potable water regulations, (2) low-Pb iron or steel recycled scrap to avoid dangerous accumulation in electric arc furnace operations, and (3) low phosphorus (P) stainless steel and low carbon steel scrap.

The correct P content can increase yield and tensile strength of low carbon steel, improving its processing and corrosion-resistance characteristics. Too much P can cause brittleness, which reduces the steel’s strength and ductility, and, ultimately, its value. Ultra-low carbon steels and line pipe steels are among the most demanding for low P at <100 ppm content. As a result, highly accurate measurements of low levels of P in ferrous alloys are critical for predicting quality for end use. These measurements are ultimately the selling point of the piping and components. Overall, the presence of high-level contamination by unwanted tramp elements in scrap loads can result in loads being rejected and returned or penalties being levied.

Handheld XRF analyzers can measure low levels of most elements found in alloys often mixed at the source. It is essential to use an SDD-enabled analyzer in order to easily sort titanium and titanium-bearing alloys, which avoids the common mis-sort of grade 9 titanium (Ti 3Al2.5V or Ti3-2.5) as grade 5 titanium (Ti6Al4V or Ti 6-4).


Vanta Work Station for XRF testing of small samples.

Sorting super alloys and high-temperature nickel (Ni) and nickel-cobalt (Ni-Co) alloys, where components are made in multiple alloys, must be precise for scrap materials headed for vacuum arc remelting. This group includes the Inconel, Haynes, Nimonic, Rene, and Udimet alloys, which have complex chemistries. Having an XRF analyzer that is electronically stable with robust calibration for fundamental parameters is essential to avoid mis-sorting and its associated penalties.

A critical part of the quality control of alloy sorting is the ability of the XRF analyzer to store all measurement readings on the instrument and then seamlessly transfer them via wireless or Bluetooth® connection for real-time data sharing to a central control area. These results can then be submitted in a report to a customer in a timely manner even if loads of materials are dispatched from different locations.


Vanta XRF test results identify 3003 vs. 3005 aluminum alloy based on the magnesium (Mg) content.


Vanta XRF test results identify grade 9 titanium (Ti3-2.5).


Black mass analysis using a Vanta handheld XRF analyzer.


#4: Increasing Profitability
The ability to accurately determine the composition of scrap materials enables recyclers to optimize their pricing strategies. Knowing the precise value of each material type empowers better negotiation with suppliers so you get the best price for your scrap products, ultimately increasing profitability.

Whether buying or selling, it is critical to determine the true value of the load. In this process, all metal coatings must be removed to avoid selling material containing undesirable contamination.

#5: Compliance with Environmental Regulations
Environmental regulations are becoming increasingly stringent, and scrap recyclers must adhere to strict standards. XRF technology aids in meeting these regulations by identifying hazardous materials so they can be processed properly. This helps recyclers minimize environmental impact and avoid costly fines.

Before reprocessing or melting, it is critical to avoid using materials with cadmium (Cd), lead (Pb), and other hazardous elements. During remelting, Pb brass in a lead-free heat of Pb-free brass cannot be removed in the remelting process. The heat will be downgraded with subsequent penalties. Within copper alloys, handheld XRF can easily sort leaded from lead-free brasses and bronzes.

#6: Reducing Material Waste
One of the greatest advantages of XRF for scrap recyclers is its ability to identify valuable trace elements in materials that may have otherwise been overlooked. As a result, the valuable components can be recovered to maximize the yield from each batch of scrap.

This is particularly important when processing spent catalytic converters (car cats) and batteries. Once crushed, car cats containing palladium (Pd), platinum (Pt), and rhodium (Rh) can be measured using XRF to determine these metals at ppm levels.

XRF can also easily measure the black mass from shredded recycled lithium-ion batteries, providing the concentrations of critical metals such as nickel, cobalt, and manganese for buying or selling, and ultimately reprocessing.

By identifying valuable metals in car cats, batteries, and other materials, XRF reduces material waste and the need to mine for new material.

#7: Enhancing Worker Safety
Traditional methods of scrap analysis often involve risky, time-consuming, and potentially harmful processes. XRF eliminates these hazards by offering a nondestructive and user-friendly alternative. This means fewer workplace accidents and a safer environment for employees. For small samples, a workstation for handheld XRF analyzers enables a safe and reliable method of measuring their material composition.

The Value of XRF Technology for Scrap Recycling
XRF technology has become a game-changing tool for scrap recyclers worldwide, offering precision, efficiency, and safety in an industry that demands nothing less. Handheld XRF analyzers for scrap recycling are available that provide a rapid return on investment. They can help recyclers improve throughput, avoid shipping incorrect grades and incurring the associated costly penalties, and add value by upgrading products to furnace-ready loads. For expert advice on analyzer selection, reach out to your XRF manufacturer with your application needs.

Embracing this innovation is not just a choice; it is a necessity in today’s competitive and environmentally conscious world. If you have not already, now is the time to unlock the hidden treasures of scrap recycling with XRF. | WA

Peter Faulkner is the Director of Market Development, Analytical Instruments at Evident. Peter is a metallurgist with many years’ sales and market development experience within the metals and mining industries, including steel manufacturing, mining equipment, molten metal control sensors, and industrial gases, prior to his work within the analytical instrument market. He is a member of the Institute of Materials, Minerals, and Mining. Peter can be reached at [email protected].

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