Enterprise Europe Network

Optical sorting technology for fast selection of metals in recycling process.

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Partner keyword: 
Mixing (powder, etc.), separation (sorting, filtering)
Composite materials
Other Processes
Analyses / Test Facilities and Methods
Recycling, Recovery
Laser Related
Chemical and solid material recycling
Water treatment equipment and waste disposal systems
Other professional, scientific and technical activities n.e.c.


An Italian research Institute with a solid background in lasers, optics and imaging processes has developed an innovative metal sorting system based on laser induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS), possibly coupled with an image processing system. The technology is suitable for recycling processes involving precious metals and a large amount of material. Collaborations to implement it in sorting systems under financial agreement and license agreement are sought.



An Italian research Institute with specific expertise in optical systems for scientific and industrial applications has developed an innovative technology system for metals sorting.
Traditional metal sorting systems are based on the separation of metals from the mixed scrap metal stream or the mixed multi-material waste stream. In automated recycling operations, magnets and sensors are used to aid in material separation. At the entrepreneurial level, scrappers may employ a magnet, and may also observe the material color or weight to help in determining the metal type. For example, aluminum will be silver and light. Other important colors to look for are copper, yellow (for brass) and red (for red brass). However, all the methods currently used have a shortfall: they are not strictly selective and they can be more selective only by the synergistic use of multiple technologies.
The technology offered uses the spectral emission from the plasma generated by the melting, vaporization and ionization processes of materials obtained by focusing powerful laser pulses on the surface of the metals. The laser system can be coupled with a very fast and highly efficient image processing system that combines hyperspectral imaging and highly selective spectroscopy with a robust algorithm for data analysis. The spectroscopic analysis of the radiation emitted by the plasma is therefore applied to identify specific spectral features characterizing different materials so as to allow their accurate identification and selection to be carried out. The system results are particularly effective if applied on a wide (1-2 m) conveyor belt running at high speed (several meters per second) on which the material is distributed as a single layer in relatively small pieces. The selection apparatus, in this case the spectroscopy equipment, observes a transverse line of the belt and correspondingly a hyperspectral image can be recorded giving for each point on the conveyor belt imaged the corresponding spectrum. The operation efficiency of the system relies on the image-processing unit and in particular on the identification procedures and data processing.
International partnerships are sought for developing the technology at industrial level, and bring it to the market by companies manufacturing material sorting systems. Companies operating in fields like waste processing systems, systems for material sorting (metal, plastic, wood), optical and spectroscopic analysis and processing methods are preferential partners. The institute is looking for partners to cooperate via financial agreement and license agreement.

Advantages & innovations

Cooperation plus value: 
This innovative technology can achieve a very fast and highly efficient sorting of metals in waste recycling. This technology's results are particularly suitable to treat a large amount of materials in a relatively short time with high efficiency and accurate selectivity. Scrap metal is generally classified as either ferrous (containing iron, such as steel) and nonferrous (everything else). Currently, the ways to identify ferrous or nonferrous metals are based on the use of a magnet. As ferrous metals contain iron, they stick to the magnet, while nonferrous metals do not, and so are easily pulled out of the mixed waste stream. Furthermore, in large recycling facilities, the use of sensors to identify metals through infra-red scanning and x-ray has become popular. The use of these technologies can effectively improve metal recovery rates, but the selectivity is still far from that desired. The LIBS technology, coupled with the hyperspectral system, offers two important advantages: 1. possibility of implementation in existing sorting chain systems; 2. high selectivity.

Stage of development

Cooperation stage dev stage: 
Under development/lab tested

Partner sought

Cooperation area: 
Type: The institute is looking for industrial partners interested in waste processing systems, systems for material sorting, optical and spectroscopic analysis and processing methods. Field of Activity: climate action, environment, resource efficiency and raw materials. Role of partner sought: Targeted partners are companies interested in implementing the technology in sorting systems or in financing the development of the technology to industrial level.

Type and size

Cooperation task: 
SME 11-50,SME <10,>500 MNE,251-500,SME 51-250,>500