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By Ember Sullivan

HOUGHTON, MI--Researchers at Michigan Tech's Institute of Materials Processing (IMP) are developing ways to recycle aluminum wastes to create commercially valuable products.

The project is directed by Dr. Jiann-Yang (Jim) Hwang (Director of IMP) and funded by the Department of Energy as well as aluminum and recycling companies such as Custom Alloys, TST Corporation and IMCO Recycling (the worlds largest aluminum recycler). The goal is to develop the technology to utilize aluminum wastes, giving them economical value for reuse, and ultimately enhancing the bottom line of the aluminum industry.

"Many people think that recycling is merely collecting reusable material, but it is not that simple," said Hwang. "We're developing technologies that do the actual separation of aluminum wastes into product forms that can be sold."

Hwang explained that aluminum, in its chemical form, is more valuable than in its mass form.

"Mass aluminum sells for about 60 cents per pound, but the value of a chemical form of aluminum is between one and two dollars," he said. "Our focus is to give the material its greatest economical value."

One major thrust of the research is combining the chemical form of aluminum with concrete. This compound forms a lightweight, porous substance that can be used for masonry block, flowable fill, and backfill for mines.

The foam-like substance has many advantages over conventional materials with the major advantage of producing more volume with less mass, which corresponds to lower cost per volume benefits, according to Hwang.

"The material is less expensive to move from place to place because it is lightweight," he said. "It can also increase production because the labor used to transport it and set it is much less than that of heavier materials."

Hwang also stressed that masonry blocks made from this substance are also practical because their porosity is a natural insulator and absorbs sound.

The $2 million, four year project is funded by a $1.2 million grant from the Department of Energy; industry partners provide $800,000 in funds.