Editorial Feature

Elemental Analysis in Recycling: Enhancing Sustainability in the Circular Economy

Elemental analysis helps determine the elemental composition of a substance. The concept of circular economy is essential for sustainability and involves the efficient utilization of material resources along with a significant reduction in waste substances. Elemental analysis efficiently identifies the types and quantities of elements in waste materials. This information is instrumental in promoting the efficient reuse of waste materials based on their composition, promoting recycling and sustainability within the circular economy.

recycling oil, elemental analysis in recycling

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How Does Elemental Analysis Aid in Waste Oil Recovery?

Significant volumes of waste oil and associated by-products are generated annually. If appropriately collected and treated, these wastes can serve as a valuable energy source or be refined to create usable products like new lubricating oil. The proper treatment of waste oil is only possible after performing elemental analysis.

However, waste oil typically contains contaminants, usually acquired during previous use, including water, other liquids, halogens, and heavy metals. Elemental analysis is crucial in environmental protection and quality control procedures related to waste oil recycling. The primary analytical techniques employed for elemental analysis in this field are energy-dispersive X-Ray Fluorescence (ED-XRF) spectrometry and Inductively Coupled Plasma – Optical Emission Spectrometry (ICP-OES).

Recently, all commercial lubricants incorporate chemical additives, with concentrations varying from 0.1 percent to 30 percent of formulated oil by volume. The XRF technique is a valuable instrumental method employed for elemental analysis of new and used lubricating oils.

XRF finds application in quality control, product development, and product performance classification. Its multi-element capability, exceptional reproducibility, and minimal sample preparation requirements make XRF an ideal tool for quality assurance (QA) purposes.

Energy-dispersive XRF instruments utilize the detector system to determine the energy of photons. This method has become popular for elemental analysis of crude oil and petroleum products. The recycling of petroleum products proves valuable in identifying various analytes. A specific treatment plan is developed by establishing the presence and concentration of analytes and contaminants, facilitating oil recycling.

Elemental Analysis for Recovery of Precious Elements by Battery Recycling

Lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) have long served as the primary power source in consumer electronics. These batteries incorporate elements like Li, Mn, Co, and Ni, which are becoming progressively scarce.

Spent LIBs emerge as a significant secondary reservoir for these critical elements. Retrieving valuable metals from electronic waste (e-waste) can mitigate the depletion of finite resources, offering an alternative to traditional mining for sustaining supply chains in battery production.

Recycling LIBs addresses resource scarcity and minimizes the potential environmental impact of metal leaching during waste disposal.

Inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy (ICP-OES) is specified in various standard methods for controlling contaminant elements in the chemicals used for LIB manufacturing.

The 5800 VDV ICP-OES by Agilent was employed in a LIB battery recycling study to analyze 18 elements in e-waste recycling materials derived from spent LIBs. Elements like Al, Co, Cu, and Li were consistently measured above the 1% level in all four samples, while concentrations of other elements ranged from <1% to the ppm level.

This method facilitates the determination of economically valuable elements (e.g., Co, Mn, Ni, and Li) and contaminant elements (e.g., Fe, Cu, and Zn), allowing for recovering and reusing precious elements like cobalt in battery material development.

Utilization of Elemental Analysis for Refuse-Derived Fuel

The global plastic crisis has sparked significant public concern, with much of the impact of plastic pollution remaining unseen. By 2025, an estimated 250 million tons of plastic will be in the oceans.

Utilizing plastic-paper composites from municipal solid waste (MSW) offers a potential avenue for producing refuse-derived fuels that contribute positively to a sustainable circular economy, per a recent study published in ScienceOpen Preprints.

Samples of plastic and paper waste were collected, processed, and analyzed for elemental composition, including carbon (C), hydrogen (H), nitrogen (N), sulfur (S), and oxygen (O). The composite samples showed lower elemental carbon and hydrogen than pure plastic (PL100). The analysis indicated a higher percentage of elemental oxygen.

Combining elemental analysis with thermogravimetric tests revealed superior thermal properties, making these composites suitable for refuse-derived fuel due to their potential for energy recovery.

Spectroscopic Analysis for Recycling of Steel from Scraps

The World Steel Association reports doubling global steel demand and production in the last 30 years, with a 5–10% annual increase in the last decade. Recent findings suggest that exclusively producing steels like austenitic from scrap could reduce energy consumption by 67% compared to virgin-based production, resulting in a 70% reduction in CO2 emissions. Recycling metallic scrap, categorized into magnetic and non-magnetic types, is a common practice before reintroducing it to the production cycle.

As per a research article published in Spectrochimica Acta Part B, elemental analysis via laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy to classify the metallic specimen has been developed. The LIBS technique uses a short, powerful laser pulse to remove a small amount of material from a sample's surface.

Initial shots showed strong signals from surface elements like calcium and magnesium, which were absent in the bulk of the sample. The system, without any cleaning laser, was used to classify different steel samples. With successful results, it is considered a promising tool for automated material analysis of metallic samples. These metallic scrap samples can then be recycled for steel production.

Elemental analysis techniques have been utilized in materials science and engineering for an extended period. Properly utilizing an effective technique in the recycling domain is useful as it identifies the elements and reduces the processing time. Technological advancements will automate the elemental analysis process and contribute toward a sustainable circular economy.

References and Further Reading

Wolska J. et al. (2023) XRF: A Powerful Oil Analysis Tool. Available at: https://www.machinerylubrication.com/Read/602/xrf-oil-analysis [Accessed on 28 November 2023].

Schulz et al. (2011) Elemental Analysis in waste oil and recycling. Available at: https://www.digitalrefining.com/article/1000641/elemental-analysis-in-waste-oil-and-recycling [Accessed on 28 November 2023].

Gurell, J. et al. (2012) Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy for fast elemental analysis and sorting of metallic scrap pieces using certified reference materials. Spectrochimica Acta Part B: Atomic Spectroscopy, 74, 46-50. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sab.2012.06.013

Robinson E. et al. (2022) Elemental and Thermogravimetric Analysis of Plastic-Paper Composites as Refuse-Derived Fuels for Energy Generation. ScienceOpen Preprints. Available at: https://www.doi.org/10.14293/S2199-1006.1.SOR-.PPC7NDH.v1

Li et al. (2023) Determination of Metals in Recycled Li-ion Battery Samples by ICP-OES. Available at: https://www.agilent.com/cs/library/applications/application-Li-ion-blackmass-5800-ICP-OES-5994-5561en-agilent.pdf [Accessed on 29 November 2023].

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Ibtisam Abbasi

Written by

Ibtisam Abbasi

Ibtisam graduated from the Institute of Space Technology, Islamabad with a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering. During his academic career, he has worked on several research projects and has successfully managed several co-curricular events such as the International World Space Week and the International Conference on Aerospace Engineering. Having won an English prose competition during his undergraduate degree, Ibtisam has always been keenly interested in research, writing, and editing. Soon after his graduation, he joined AzoNetwork as a freelancer to sharpen his skills. Ibtisam loves to travel, especially visiting the countryside. He has always been a sports fan and loves to watch tennis, soccer, and cricket. Born in Pakistan, Ibtisam one day hopes to travel all over the world.


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