WPI to develop new metal recycling technologies, findings geared to support military defense materials supply

April 01, 2023 | Metallurgical Lab

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) will develop methods to recover critical materials, mainly from rare earth metals. The research effort will look into applying advanced manufacturing techniques to identify field waste material recovery processes by studying the use of recycled polymeric materials. This initiative is part of the 5-year collaborative agreement that the institute has entered into with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory (DEVCOM ARL).

Under the agreement, research will primarily aid to equip soldiers in the field with a reliable supply of tools and spare parts for military defense. The research program received $7.6 million via congressional funding and $9 million which WPI will receive from the collaboration with DEVCOM ARL.

At present, available methods of metal recycling includes:

  1. Electrochemical recycling uses electricity to break down metal compounds into their constituent components so they may be reused.

  2. Hydrometallurgical recycling uses chemical solutions to dissolve metals and use other techniques to separate out the dissolved metals and purify them for reuse.

  3. Pyrometallurgical recycling uses the heating of metal scrap in a controlled environment to recover valuable metals.

  4. Plasma recycling uses plasma arcs to melt and vaporize metal scrap, which is then condensed and purified to create high-purity metals for reuse.

WPI is currently working to bring experts, lab, and industry-vetted research agendas to identify the best approaches to the program. In particular, WPI’s Center for Holographic Studies and Laser micro-mechaTronics (CHSLT) is currently working with DEVCOM ARL on two research projects. They are seeking to leverage knowledge gained from its laboratory studies and new technologies to produce more effective smart technologies for protecting the eyes and ears, as well as new ways of designing and testing advanced helmets and wearable protection plates, including the use of quantitative ultra-high-speed imaging as part of its metal recovery efforts.

“Our national safety and security strongly depend on the uninterrupted supply of all kinds of materials. Therefore, recovery and recycling play a pivotal role in maintaining the resiliency in the supply chain,” says Brajendra Mishra, Kenneth G. Merriam Distinguished Professor of Mechanical & Materials Engineering.

“This effort will maintain the flow of products and technologies to the Department of Defense and our national industrial base. In addition, the program is intended to create environmentally friendly, energy efficient, and economically viable materials via recycling.”

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