Aluminium beverage cans are usually recycled in the following basic way:
- Cans are first divided from municipal waste, in utilisation of an ECS.
- Cans are cut into little, equal pieces to lessen the volume and make it easier for the machines which separate them.
- Pieces are cleaned chemically/mechanically.
- Pieces are blocked to minimise oxidation losses when melted. (The surface of aluminium readily oxidizes back into aluminium oxide when exposed to oxygen.)
- Blocks are loaded into the furnace and heated to 750 °C ± 100 °C to produce molten aluminium.
- Dross is removed and the dissolved hydrogen is degassed. (Molten aluminium readily disassociates hydrogen from water vapor and hydrocarbon contaminants.) This is typically done with chlorine and nitrogen gas. Hexachloroethane tablets are normally used as the source for chlorine. Ammonium perchlorate can also be used, as it decomposes mainly into chlorine, nitrogen, and oxygen when heated.
- Samples are taken for spectroscopic analysis. Depending on the final product desired, high purity aluminium, copper, zinc, manganese, silicon, and/or magnesium is added to alter the molten composition to the proper alloy specification. The top 5 aluminium alloys produced are apparently 6061, 7075, 1100, 6063, and 2024.
- The furnace is tapped, the molten aluminium poured out, and the process is repeated again for the next batch. Depending on the end product it may be cast into ingots, billets, or rods, formed into large slabs for rolling, atomized into powder, sent to an extruder, or transported in its molten state to manufacturing facilities for further processing.