Master Alloys, Recycled Scrap Metal, or Prime Materials: Which is Right for My Operation?
When it comes to purchasing raw material for your manufacturing operations, there are several options of which you should be aware. These include prime metals (also sometimes called “new” or “virgin” metals), recycled scrap, and master alloys.
When choosing an option, it is important to identify your requirements and goals, which could include maintaining (or increasing) efficiency, enhancing quality, reducing risk, containing costs, etc. For example, while using prime metals might seem like a way to guarantee quality, the high cost and negative environmental impact of these materials tends to far outweigh any potential small gains in quality.
Here we will focus primarily on the cost and impact of primary materials, recycled scrap, and master alloys for manufacturing, highlighting the differences between them.
Prime Materials and Alloying Agents
Prime metals might seem like the least-risky investment when it comes to sourcing materials. However, it is not only a risky option in the long term, it is also the most costly option. Much of the cost of metals is due not to the relative rarity of the metal, but the cost of extracting it from the ore and processing it, as well as the amount of waste produced in the process. Scrap or recycled materials have a much lower cost associated with processing.
Perhaps as important as cost is the environmental impact of prime materials. Extracting and producing prime materials is an energy-intensive process for most metals. Take aluminum, for example. According to aluminum producer Alcoa, an aluminum smelter (Hall-Héroult smelting) might use 13 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity to produce a single kilogram of aluminum (though there is a range, depending on the efficiency of the smelter). This adds up to between 12,500 and 17,000 kWh of electricity needed to produce 1 ton of aluminium, making it one of the most energy-intensive metals to refine. By contrast, recovering aluminum from and scrap requires less than 6 percent of the energy of aluminum production from bauxite (aluminum ore) mining.
Besides the power requirements, the mining and processing of metals has a more direct impact on local environments. To use aluminum again as an example:
- Strip-mining to obtain bauxite removes all native vegetation (and thus natural habitats) in the mining region.
- Waste sludge from mining operations often seeps into aquifers, and can contaminate local water sources if care is not taken to properly dispose of it.
- Smelting and processing release greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, perfluorocarbons, sodium fluoride, sulfur dioxide, and more.
- Particulates released during processing can compromise air quality and risks being released into the local area.
Future-oriented companies have begun to realize that the long-term environmental impacts of prime metal processing, together with the cost, simply do not justify the perceived value of virgin metals. For example, the price of many raw materials (including metals like steel and aluminum) have skyrocketed in the wake of COVID-19 as the supply chain struggled to keep up with new demand. Consumer sentiment, too, is driving more and more companies to make their processes greener. Future-proofing the business means finding alternative sources of materials with less and less environmental impact.
Recycled Scrap Metal
Recycled scrap material is a more sustainable option for use in the manufacturing process. Not only does it prevent waste from ending up in a landfill, it also has a significantly lighter impact on the environment than traditional mining and processing for prime metals.
Take energy costs. Recycling aluminum, for example, saves up to 92% of the energy that would otherwise be used to mine and process virgin metal. And recycling steel requires 60% less energy than producing it from iron ore.
In addition, using recycled scrap produces roughly 97% less mining waste and uses 40% less water.
Aluminum and other non-ferrous materials are perfect candidates when it comes to buying recycled materials. This means that post-industrial scrap material that has been handled properly can yield quality results on par with prime materials, as long as manufacturers work with a recycling partner that prioritizes quality.
(What does it mean to prioritize quality in scrap metal recycling? Quality comes, for example, from sorting and processing scrap in a way that reduces contamination from other materials. Shapiro Master Alloys’ sister company, Shapiro Metals, controls the scrap processing starting at the initial manufacturing site in order to minimize such contamination.)
Next-Generation Master Alloys
Master alloys, as a general category, are composed of a base metal (such as aluminum) and one or two elements (such as silicon and magnesium). These alloys have been the focus of Shapiro Master Alloys metallurgists and research teams.
Shapiro Master Alloys—our brand name of master alloys—are a furnace-ready material that does not need traditional alloying agents. While prime materials and recycled scrap require traditional alloying agents that must be purchased separately and mixed at the furnace, Master Alloys have already been expertly sourced and precisely mixed. The end product allows a manufacturer to deploy recycled content (replacing prime or virgin material) into a manufacturing process with scientific precision and less hassle.
MasterAlloys have several other advantages over prime materials and alloying agents:
They are made from 100% recycled post-industrial nonferrous metals. This helps to keep more metal out of landfills,
They are a single, furnace-ready material. Manufacturers do not have to purchase, store, and handle multiple materials. Not having to mix materials also means fewer chances for mistakes in blending, meaning a more consistent end product every time.
They have consistent melt rates and improved metal recovery. When blending is optimized and melt rates are consistent, it helps create a more consistent product in less time, That means better throughput and production with less hassle.
They have a certified analysis. MasterAlloys are the result of serious research. Their composition is based on known metal chemistry, not guesswork. This means that you can expect lower error rates without having to be a metallurgist yourself.
Shapiro Master Alloys’ engineers and metallurgical experts have specific expertise in these materials. We offer these alloys together with a certified analysis to reduce error rates and simplify the alloying process. If you would like to speak with a Shapiro Master Alloys expert, contact us.