CR3 Newsletter - 2011


Diran Apelian - CR3 Director

In the last few months, the need for resource recovery and recycling of inorganic materials has become quite evident with the crisis with rare earth metals. Unprecedented in the history of markets, the price of rare earth metals increased by approximately 150–700% in a period of six months, as shown in the table below. In parallel, the Department of Energy released a publication, “Critical Materials Strategy” in December 2010.  The report can be downloaded from the Members Only section on the CR3 website: It is a most interesting read and clearly points out that the work we are doing at CR3 is not only timely, but also critical to our economic health.


SUPPLY & DEMAND: Rare Earth Metals
REECost $/kg January 5, 2010 Cost $/kg August 5, 2010% Increase






















In January I had the opportunity to spend two weeks at the University of California Davis, at the invitation of Chancellor Linda Katehi and Dean Enrique Lavernia, to partake in discussions and workshops on a major sustainability initiative that UC Davis is launching. What became abundantly clear to me, and something that perhaps should have been clear all along, is that all the major impediments for a sustainable 21st century depends on materials. When it comes to energy, food and water, housing and shelter, transportation, resource recovery and recycling, and health, materials are the enabling pathways to the challenges we face. The work we have begun together at CR3 is timely, relevant to societal needs, and critically important for a sustainable future. 

In the last few weeks we have been approached by several universities who want to join us. We are asking them these key questions: What do you bring to the table? How do you complement the CR3 portfolio? What value does this bring to our industrial partners (our CR3 members)? What is the value proposition? As discussions progress, we will keep you informed of developments; most likely, these will be vetted and discussed at our May meeting.

As of this writing, the formal proposal for Katholieke Universiteit Leuven to be a partner university of CR3 has been submitted to NSF, and we anticipate a favorable decision. K.U. Leuven brings on board many companies from the European community (including Umicore) who will strengthen the base and complement our existing members.

As a closing note, thanks for reading our inaugural newsletter issue.  Many thanks to Renee Brodeur and Chang Liu who organize and publish the newsletter. Please send us your newsworthy items and we will include them in our next issue.



Brajendra Mishra – CR3 Associate Director

CR3 plans R&D for Nuclear Waste Processing

According to a report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, over 0.90 trillion kilowatt-hours of energy is anticipated to come from nuclear source by 2035 (Fig. 1: Nuclear Energy Usage). With no reprocessing of the nuclear waste, the storage capacity will be far exceeded (Fig. 2: source Scientific America). It is imperative that viable research and development efforts be invested to reprocess nuclear waste for fuel recovery. Nuclear reprocessing to separate the useful components from the radioactive waste in spent nuclear fuel using chemical methods must be considered to realize the projected growth. CR3 plans to support the development of such reprocessing methods to extract fissile materials for recycling and to reduce the volume of high-level wastes.

The primary reason for reprocessing used fuel has been to recover unused actinides in the used fuel elements and gain approximately 25 percent more energy from the original uranium in the process. In addition, waste management will allow the volume of material to be disposed of as high-level waste to be reduced to about one fifth.

In this endeavor, CR3 will work with industry and national laboratories, as members of the cooperative consortium, to serve their needs.  Significant capability exists for working with depleted uranium and other actinide surrogates for R&D purposes at the CR3 partner institution at Colorado School of Mines.


Figure 1: Nuclear Energy Usage


Figure 2: source Scientific America



Stephanie Shipp - CR3 Evaluator

CR3 Evaluation Summary

“What gets measured gets done.” – attributed to Peter Drucker (1909-2005)

"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."- Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

NSF requires that each I/UCRC project include an evaluator with the goal to assess the bi-annual meetings as well as to survey each of the industry, faculty, and student members annually.

Goals of regularly evaluating CR3 and other I/UCRC centers:

  1. To help CR3 and NSF objectively evaluate their impact by documenting I/UCRC outcomes and accomplishments
  2. To promote continuous improvement by giving actionable and timely data, based on formally collected and observational feedback
  3. To identify and communicate information about I/UCRC best practices to NSF and other centers
  4. To help promote a better understanding of industry-university-government research cooperation

As the quotes above indicate, evaluation provides a reminder of the goals set forth for a center. Some outputs of these goals are easy to count, such as the number of responses to the questionnaires, the number of projects the company in which the company is involved, the number of students hired, the number responding to specific categories of how the center could improve its operations, and the number who plan to renew their membership. These counts provide a quick snapshot of the health of the CR3. For example, of the 13 companies who responded to the questionnaires, most are interested in two or three of the CR3 projects; no students have been hired as a result of the CR3, in large part because the project is under a year old; project selection and planning and development of the research program are the top two areas identified for improving CR3 operations; and most members plan to renew their membership in 2011.

Not all metrics are easy to count, but may be as important for capturing the health of CR3; for example, satisfaction with the center and quality of the research, as well as the intangible benefits from participating in the CR3, such as networking opportunities. About half of those responding reported that networking has had positive impact on their companies.

All three groups reported satisfaction with CR3:

Industry is satisfied with the capabilities of the researchers, the quality and focus of the research program, the breadth of the research topics covered, and relevance of research to their companies.

Faculty are satisfied with the quality of CR3 research and the relevance to their professional goals. One faculty member noted, “As a new center, the research program will strengthen as it matures and as it grows and becomes more diversified.” Many said that industry guidance and feedback is critical to their work.

Students are satisfied with the technical quality of the research, communication among students, faculty, and industrial scientists, and the opportunities to participate in applied research. One student commented that involvement with CR3 has provided “opportunities to communicate with people in industry—the top minds.” Another said, “As a new student to the center, my exposure to date has been limited. However, I am really excited about the nature of projects at CR3 that ensures I get a better perspective at recycling and resource recovery apart from the project I'm involved with.”



WPI Projects, Research, and Students

A Closed-loop Approach for Aluminum Dross: Recycling by Eliminating Waste

Everything in existence participates in the great cycle of life. A lion dies, the soil bacterium breaks down its body to release the remaining nutrients and becomes available to the ecosystem to fertilize plant growth. An antelope eats plants, which are converted to protein and fat, and then one day perhaps the antelope will be caught by a lion for food. In nature, where we find closed-loop cycles, nothing is “wasted” because products from every step in the cycle have a utility for the next product in the cycle. So things go on and the earth survives millions of years. Unfortunately we cannot say the same for industrial systems (Fig. 1: source Michael Farries Ashby). However, here lies the opportunity and the nexus to this project: take the waste from one process and utilize it, as nature would, in a closed-loop system.

Figure 1:


The driving force to take an industrial waste, such as Al dross, and use it as an engineering material is both environmentally and  economically sound. The impact of reducing energy consumption to recover the Al out of dross and to mitigate potential leakage from landfills is huge. In addition, the potential economic benefits are enticing.

In order to complete the life cycle and enhance its sustainability, we chose to deal with aluminum dross, from primary smelters as well as secondary processors. Dross floats up in the presence of air and consumes about 2wt percent of the melt. Due to the presence of alumina, dross can be useful in making Al-Al2O3 composites, alumina-related chemical reactants, and industrial catalysts, among other potential applications.

Our aim is to utilize Al dross as an additive or a constituent in a variety of construction materials/products. Blocks of dross were milled to powder and mixed with cement to form concrete bricks. Dross powder bonds with hydrated cement and dross, as filler material in concrete is an excellent application. Our focus is to take this to another level, by using dross as reactive filler; this will help increase toughness, hardness and wear resistance of the concrete.


Digital pH tester and pH test paper are used by Chen Dai to control the purification of dross powder and the reaction with cement.

Concrete blocks (as pictured to the left) containing Al dross can be the building blocks of the world of tomorrow, where waste is eliminated and upscaling rather than downscaling of residues is the paradigm.


Chen Dai received her BS in material physics from the University of Science and Technology Beijing and came to WPI in 2009. She is now working toward her MS in CR3 on Development of Aluminum Dross-based Materials for Engineering Applications: Reduce land filling and energy usage to recover Al. She notes, "It is said that the man with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds. I will try to prove that I am not being a crank."


Metal Recovery via Automated Sortation

There is only a finite amount of resources on this planet, and inorganic materials are not renewable. This is further exacerbated as our demand for resources is dramatically increasing. Through recycling we have the opportunity to reduce the consumption of our limited resources, to reduce energy usage, and to reduce air and water pollution. The table below shows us the energy savings when using recycled materials. It can be noted that more than 60 percent of energy usage could be saved if we produce metal from recycled materials rather than raw materials.

MaterialsEnergy Savings (%)





Iron and Steel







Current identification methods for metal recovery and recycling rely on a chosen property of the material in order to sort it. Typical sorting techniques include density separation, magnetic separation, and hydrometallurgical processes. However, nothing about the chemical composition of the materials being extracted in these processes is actually known. Today, sensing techniques such as X-ray fluorescence (XRF) have enabled determination of the chemical make up of alloys in real time. This creates opportunities within the field of recycling to upgrade the value of waste stream by intelligently separating out unwanted materials, leaving behind the desired metal.


Three steps for metal sortation: Feeding, Identification, and Separation



The principal goal of this research is to create an automated sorting system to recycle high-value metal scrap, such as Nb and Mo, using XRF technique as one mode of identification. Typically, a sorting system consists of three steps: feeding, identification, and separation (see Figure above). NIST-ATP has initiated a project with one of our CR3 members to explore a sorting technology that involves the use of X-ray fluorescence and transmission to detect chip composition and defects. CR3 will focus its sortation project on the feeding and ejection steps. Moreover, the optimized feeding and ejection methods we will establish can be used with any identification methodology, not just XRF.

Taxonomy of the best-fit methods for sorting different material types and particle sizes is being created. Subsequently, a feeding system able to provide a monolayer of chips at a belt load that is variable, is being developed (see figure below). A micro-ejection technology for the removal of the unwanted materials from a particulate waste stream will be built. Different feed systems have been procured from our members, and these will be tested and, ultimately, a beta site trial will be carried out.


Experimental Apparatus - QC 125 Standard Conveyor


Hao Yu received his BS in materials science and engineering at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. He came to WPI in 2008 and completed his MS degree in May 2010. He is currently pursuing his PhD at the CR3, working on the sortation project.




Optoelectronic Sensing of Molten Metal Composition

Traditional scrap sortation technology separates scrap into alloy classes, each having a chemical composition that is uncertain and varies between lots. The availability of real-time, in-situ sensors to measure the composition of molten metal, during subsequent scrap melt processing, will increase the melt processability of scrap by enabling fast response to aberrant scrap composition and closed loop melt compositional control. Increased scrap processability will encourage increased scrap utilization, lessen export of domestic metal scrap resources, and support closed loop metals recycling, providing significant materials sustainability and energy benefits to society.

Previous work has demonstrated the feasibility of optoelectronic compositional sensing for liquid metals. However, it also showed that melt surface contamination from oxides and surface segregation degraded measurement accuracy and precision. Efforts need to be made to investigate these effects and improve the accuracy of measurement. The overarching goal of this research project is to improve the performance of optoelectronic sensing technologies, including Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) and X-ray Fluorescence (XRF), to overcome the degrading effect of surface contamination upon the measurement of molten metal composition.


Laboratory Vacuum Induction Melting Unit Outfitted with XRF Instrumentation (can be adapted for LIBS)

Shimin Li is conducting her postdoctoral research at the CR3 after completing her PhD in materials science and engineering in 2010 at WPI. Her dissertation focused on the quantitative characterization of hot tearing in cast aluminum alloys. She holds BS and MS degrees in materials science and engineering from Dalian Jiaotong University and Beijing University of Technology, respectively.



CSM Projects, Research, and Students

Recovery of Rare Earth Metals from Phosphor Dust

The unique properties of rare earth metals have led to a wide variety of applications. This has made rare earth metals and alloys strategically important materials that currently rely on foreign resources. With changing global supply trends, it has become increasingly important to become less dependent on foreign supplies. Recycling these materials offers a viable solution to this problem. In this work, luminescent rare earths contained in phosphor dust from spent fluorescent lamps shall be recovered. The recovery of rare earths from phosphor dust by means of froth floatation or dense media centrifugation followed by leaching and solvent extraction will be investigated. The work is conducted within the Kroll Institute of Extractive Metallurgy (KIEM) at Colorado School of Mines and CR3.


Solvent Extraction Circuit for recovery of rare earth elements

Tanmay Anand is pursuing his MS in metallurgy at Colorado School of Mines. After receiving his bachelor of technology from National Institute of Technology Trichy, he worked for a leading petroleum refining company in India as an inspection engineer.


Recycling of Baghouse Dust from Foundry Sand through Chemical and Physical Beneficiation

Non-metallic foundry waste is generated in tens of millions of tons annually, costing the American foundry industry hundreds of millions of dollars in disposal fees. Recycling these materials back into the foundry process would not only save disposal cost, but also reduce input demand. This waste consists of spent foundry sand as well as fine dust derived from the sand that is collected in ventilation system baghouses. Although industrial scale sand regeneration plants for spent foundry sand are in operation, the irregular shape and small particle size of the sand present in the dust material make it unsuitable to recover from the dust by known practices. However, it is possible to recover bentonite clay and bituminous coal from the dust particle surfaces for reuse in foundry green sand. In this work the extraction of valuable materials from the dust by way of hydrocyclone and froth flotation is investigated. Analysis of experimental products is conducted primarily by loss on ignition, methylene blue titration, clay leaching, particle size analysis, and Qemscan analysis. This work is conducted within the Kroll Institute for Extractive Metallurgy (KIEM), Center for Resource Recovery and Recycling (CR3), and Victaulic’s Forks Foundry.  A flotation experiment is depicted below.


Brandon Dugan completed his BS in metallurgy and materials engineering at Colorado School of Mines. Pursuing his MS in extractive metallurgy with KIEM, he is currently working with the CR3 to beneficiate industrial byproducts.


Photovoltaic Recycling

Continuing development and reliance on alternative energy sources in the U.S. has led to a dramatic increase in solar thin film technology and production. These include α-Silicon, copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS), and cadmium telluride (CdTe) modules. Due to low manufacturing cost, CdTe modules have dominated most large-scale instillations. With the increase in production, a need has developed for an environmentally acceptable recycling technology to dismantle and recover the valuable thin film material from these modules when they are decommissioned in 25-30 years. The goal of this project is to develop a technology from laboratory experiments that will recover high-purity tellurium from end-of-life, decommissioned modules, and eventually implement an in-plant recycling strategy using the developed technology for photovoltaic manufacturers.


Makko DeFilippo is an MS candidate in metallurgy at Colorado School of Mines. He joined CSM after earning a BS in geological engineering at the University of Arizona.  During his undergraduate career, Makko worked as a geophysical technician and lab manager for Zonge Engineering, and as a geotechnical engineering technician for Call & Nicholas Inc., giving him a diverse background in the minerals industry. He is currently working on the photovoltaic recycling project for CR3.


Members in the News

GM Gets Serious about Recycling
Jim Motavalli

At General Motors, it's all hands on deck to make half of its manufacturing plants "nil to landfill" by the end of the year. John Bradburn, project manager for GM's Design for Environment initiatives, said 69 of the company's plants worldwide are now landfill free (up from 62, and 43% of production, in May).

But that's just one part of the story: To reduce landfill waste, the company is also using as much recycled material in its cars as is humanly possible. I asked Bradburn if the company was motivated by saving money, or by making an environmental statement. "It's more in line with doing the right thing," he said, "but the performance of the recycled materials is there."

Bradburn said that GM's plants globally now average a 90% recycling rate. Wow, what a transformation for GM. This is the company targeted by Michael Moore in Roger and Me. The hirsute director went as far as to wish GM would just expire, but I found that more than a little mean-spirited. He was "filled with joy" when he thought the company would fade from sight, but he's a minority of one, even in Flint, I'd say. Maybe he'll take it all back now.

Here are some of the recycling programs involving GM's manufacturing operations, many innovative and clever:
Old bumpers: They're ground up and form new air inlet panels for such cars as the Chevy Camaro, Impala and Traverse, as well as the Cadillac CTS and CTS coupe.
Worn carpets: The GMC Acadia takes the nylon and remakes it into mirror frames, fascia brackets and door-handle parts.
Used water bottles: The Cadillac SRX uses bottles and milk jugs in its air-conditioning and heating vent covers. The Chevy Volt uses them in baffles, along with recycled tires. Recycled stuff also goes into engine fans and shrouds, splash shields and dash insulators.
Cardboard: Used material from GM's stamping pads is made into acoustic pads for the Buick Lacrosse's headliner. That's a 25% to 45% savings for GM, and it diverts the cardboard from the landfill.
Paint sludge: This muck is one of the biggest pollutants auto plants produce, and GM is using it as filler in the making of reusable shipping containers.

The recycling thing is snowballing. "Now when suppliers see a waste stream coming out of another industry, they contact us to see if it has the right chemical makeup from something we can recycle," said GM spokeswoman Sharon Basel. "They're engaged in the process."
Jim Motavalli blogs about the auto industry for the New York Times and the Mother Nature Network.



Prof. Brajendra Mishra, CR3 associate director, has been appointed president-elect of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical & Petroleum Engineers for 2011–12. AIME is the founding member society of the United Engineering Foundation; its professional member societies (AIST, SME, SPE, and TMS, which represent engineering sciences related to earth resources) collectively number over 110,000.

The British Foundry Medal for 2010 was awarded to Diran Apelian and John Jorstad for their paper “Pressure-assisted processes for high-integrity aluminium castings.”  Parts 1 and 2 were published in the October and November issues, respectively, of Foundry Trade Journal.

On December 8, 2010, Diran Apelian received the National Materials Advancement Award from the Federation of Materials Societies at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.  The award recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding capabilities and contributions in advancing the multidisciplinary field of materials science and engineering; the effective and economic use of materials in the marketplace and the application of materials developments to national problems and defense; and the development and implementation of national policy, which furthers the impact of materials sciences and engineering on our society.  



Send articles for the CR3 newsletter to Renee Brodeur.


Upcoming Events  (open to the public)

March 24-25
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Symposium: 2nd US Materials Education Symposium
Sustainability and the Environment includes talks from 24 leading educators and focuses on undergraduate materials teaching across engineering, science, processing, and design. Opening speakers:

Diran Apelian (WPI)
Mike Ashby (University of Cambridge)
Gregory Olson (Northwestern University)
She Chun Lim (National University of Singapore)

Further details at

March 28
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Seminar: Carbide-Derived Carbons for Energy Related Applications
Prof. Yury Gogotsi (Drexel University)

April 14
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Seminar: Assessing the Criticality of the Elements
Thomas Graedel (Yale University)

April 18
Purdue University
Seminar: Accomplishments and Opportunities in Environmental R&D for the Electronics Industry
Robert C. Pfahl Jr. (International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative)


CR3 Meetings (members only)

May 10-11
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Spring 2011 IAB Meeting

October 5-6
Location TBD
Fall 2011 IAB Meeting

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Last modified: March 31, 2011 15:42:38