NUMiX MATERIALS Gives New Life to Manufacturing Byproducts by Redefining Waste Streams
Ian Wiese, Chief Technology OfficerSeptember 30, 2020
Foundries are magical sites of modern-day alchemy.
Raw materials, in their most basic forms, come in one door and are transmuted through the raw forces of humans and nature into products limited only by imagination.
Being surrounded by the forging of matter for purpose, the limitations of the global materials supply chain are often top of mind,
especially what gets lost in the process.
While managing non-ferrous foundries for the better part of a decade, I gained considerable experience with the ups and downs of the material supply markets.
On the surface, the metals supply chain may seem like a very efficient one. When I've needed pure copper to create alloys for aerospace use, I purchased electrical wire stripped of insulation—wire that, just a few weeks prior, was transmitting power in the Northeastern U.S until a storm hit.
To make leaded-brass doorknobs or hinges I could purchase some old leaded cable shielding recycled from decommissioned underground wires.
To manufacture plumbing fixtures I purchased brass as spent bullet shells from military shooting ranges, which did, however, carry the risk of lead contamination and still-live bullets.
What happens when the batch is contaminated?
Well, you get 40,000lbs of pipe fitting brass contaminated with lead, ruining all 20 tons of material or about 40,000 fixtures -- no small ‘whoopsie daisy!’. (I’m still shell shocked from the time a charge with live rounds was loaded into my induction melting furnace. I wasn’t expecting to have to dodge ricochets off the ceiling that, or any, day.)
Given that the industry is relatively used to literally dodging bullets, one would think that there would be greater attunement to the diversity of potential input material streams and creative supply solutions. At first blush, the companies I worked for had a pretty good handle on the circularity of their metals markets.
But digging deeper, it was not what it seemed. The issues associated with a contaminated batch of metal or even some flying projectiles pales in comparison to the levels of material leakage and loss throughout the manufacturing industry.
Actually, I discovered there are substantial losses along the entire value chain in process byproducts.
For example, at one company, where the zinc oxide (ZnO) dust collected by the baghouse and the slag generated by the furnace processes was sent to a landfill.
It turns out, these waste streams can relatively easily be converted into byproduct streams with a net positive value not just monetarily for the parent organization, but for the environment as well.
Zinc oxide powder from brass foundries can be sold for use as an ingredient in cough drops, sunscreen, and house paint. The foundry slags can be reprocessed to extract the residual metals of value and the resulting glass slag can be sold to the construction aggregate industry for inclusion in concrete.
While the sale of ZnO powder is not new, the reprocessing of foundry slag to reclaim valuable metals represents an innovative shift in the industry. And while some forward progress is occurring, the urgent need for further byproduct processing innovations far exceeds current efforts. Nowhere is that more apparent than in processing wastewater.
Even as a foundry manager, I very rarely had to give a second thought to our wastewater.
For many operating companies, wastewater is out of sight and out of mind.
It wasn’t until I began learning about NUMiX Materials that I started to really understand and appreciate the complexities of water-treatment related to almost every heavy industry. It resonated with me so much that I joined the team!
Since each industry is unique, water treatment methods have evolved in a rather “catch all” manner. As a result, wastewater processing technology innovations tend to stay siloed within individual industries.
The unfortunate side effect is that massive amounts of elemental metal value are literally being washed down the drain, condensed and dumped into landfills each year, or in some cases, locked up in abandoned mines.
We won’t get a second chance at those metal resources.
Ever-increasing consumption and the constant need for additional materials sources necessitate that we, as Earth’s stewards, do all we can to redefine our waste streams.
Is it truly a ‘waste’ product, or is there a residual value that can be reclaimed?
To paraphrase a common idiom, “Don’t throw the precious elements out with the wastewater.”