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Defusing the Phosphorus Time Bombs

The element phosphorus (P) doesn’t get enough respect. In actuality, the phosphorus originating in phosphate minerals provides nutrients essential to both animal and plant life on this planet. In humans, it’s crucial for the development, structure, and functioning of our bones and teeth, muscles, cell membranes, RNA, and DNA, for starters.

The Phosphorus Problem

Unfortunately, our supply of this vital element faces two related problems. Phosphorus is running off — and it’s running out. So we’re threatened by both environmental and sustainability phosphate time bombs. 

Both are concerns for individuals, corporations, and other organizations that try to improve environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors to ensure a sustainable future. Can we do something about both problems? Yes. 

To understand how to defuse these twin time bombs, let’s examine the phosphorus cycle.

Mined from phosphate mineral, phosphorus is a key component of the fertilizers that help us grow crops for consumption by humans and livestock. Via both agricultural runoffs plus human and animal wastes (as well as runoffs from mining and even natural erosion), this valuable resource is eventually lost to the sea.

The runoffs lead to myriad ecological problems. These include toxic trace element buildups, harmful algal blooms, global-scale biodiversity loss, oxygen “dead zones” threatening fisheries, and the contamination of drinking water supplies.

As for the threat of phosphorus running out: while we still have substantial global deposits of phosphate suitable for extraction, accessing any given reserve may be hindered by regional supply chain issues and geopolitical barriers.

Also, phosphorus is different even from other nonrenewable resources such as oil. Because as far as we know, phosphorus won’t be replaced with something else as supplies dwindle. It can’t be made in a lab or factory. 

And without phosphorus, we can’t produce food.

Recovery and Recycling

The ultimate goal may be a closed loop: use/recover/recycle/reuse indefinitely. But meanwhile, sustaining our supply of phosphorus and managing it via environmentally sound approaches are important efforts.

Their urgency may be spurred by ongoing regulatory efforts. Example: in Germany, phosphorus recovery will become mandatory for large wastewater treatment plants by 2029. 

Also, phosphorus recovery/recycling projects can make good economic sense. Any phosphorus that’s recovered from waste products contributes to sustainability, lessens pollution — and may even increase profits.

Multiple Methods

Some older plants extract phosphorus directly from sewage sludge via thermochemical processing, yielding struvite — composed of phosphorus, ammonia, and magnesium (Mg). More recently, numerous specialized incinerator plants are under development to obtain phosphorus-rich ash from sewage sludge and other effluents. Other plants may produce phosphoric acid. Struvite, ash, and phosphoric acid all make excellent primary fertilizer ingredients.

In addition, procedures are being developed to extract phosphorus from biogas. Fermentation materials left over from the biogas generated by sewage, silage, and organic waste can be incinerated into phosphorus-bearing ash for fertilizer.

Subsidiary procedures, both thermomechanical and metallurgical, can reduce the heavy metals content of all these products.

Analytical Solutions

Whatever the process or product, accurate measurements of phosphorus, metals, and other elements are critical at multiple points in recovery and recycling. Two spectrometer technologies offer the best results for analyzing elemental contents — from incoming inspection to in-process or outgoing product quality control.

ICP-OES: SPECTROGREEN

Instruments utilizing inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry (ICP- OES) are already standard for tasks such as sewage sludge and phosphoric acid analyses.

Leading analytical instrument supplier SPECTRO and its parent company AMETEK are dedicated to enabling sustainable practices in the circular economy. Example: the SPECTROGREEN analyzer. Its unique radial dual side-on interface (DSOI) plasma viewing technology equals the sensitivity of the newest vertical-torch dual-view systems — while avoiding their complexity and headaches.

Such ICP-OES instruments are already written into various industry and governmental standards for recovery/recycling analysis.

ED-XRF: SPECTRO XEPOS

A newer alternative may prove even more preferable for some facilities. Analyzers based on energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence (ED-XRF) are generally even simpler, easier to operate — often calling for little or no sample preparation.

Consider SPECTRO XEPOS, the company’s flagship ED-XRF spectrometer. It fills out SPECTRO’s analytical solution suite for the entire phosphorus recycling/recovery value chain.

This late-model, compact ED-XRF analyzer provides exceptionally fast, easy, accurate multi-elemental analysis of major, minor, and trace element concentrations, such as uranium, thorium and cadmium. Innovations in excitation and detection furnish higher sensitivity and lower detection limits than other XRF instruments in its class.

The above techniques and instruments can provide easy, efficient measurement at crucial recovery/recycling points. They’re critical to helping defuse the world’s twin phosphorus time bombs.

Get all the details in our white paper, “Effluent Phosphate Recovery & Recycling: The Latest Analytical Solutions.” No waiting!

Download now!
 
Recent Blog Posts
SPECTRO and Karl-Kisters-Realschule
Investing in the Futures: Of Students, Communities, and Innovation
When officials at SPECTRO partner with and invest in the Karl Kisters Realschule in Kleve-Kellen, Germany, they are doing so with their eyes on a most ambitious return-on-investment ROI: a return on the future. In fact, many returns on many futures. The future of Karl Kisters students. The future of Kleve and surrounding communities. The future of advanced technology in industry and academia. And, of course, the future of SPECTRO and its continuing innovation and leadership.

Founded in 1997, the Karl Kisters Realschule in Kleve-Kellen today serves nearly 700 students from Kleve, Emmerich, Kranenburg, Bedburg-Hau, and Uedem, who attend the school's 24 classes in an attractive, modern facility. 

A closer look at the school's guiding principles and operation provides a clue as to SPECTRO's continuous involvement since its founding. First, there is a clear focus on delivering students options "in their personality development so they may formulate an independent vision for the next step in their education" after graduation. This includes solid opportunities for successful careers in and contributions to the fields of technology. Specifically, the school offers the start of dual training to learn a trade and later, if necessary, to train as a technician or master craftsman.

Among other fundamentals, the school embraces professional advice on school careers, the individual promotion of diverse talents, and team orientation in shared learning. Its differentiators include close links to the region and tried and tested cooperation with the regional economy, including the support of experts in the classroom.

Thus, as a partner, contributor, and supporter, SPECTRO, as a global leader in high technology research and development, innovation, and manufacturing, the fit is natural.

Around the world, the number of students pursuing vocational careers is down, threatening continued advancements and innovation in technology research, development, and manufacturing. But in Kleve, Karl Kisters focuses on math, physics, and chemistry – precisely the training SPECTRO and technology-focused institutions worldwide seek. Today, more than ever, the strategic importance of SPECTRO's multi-year relationship with Karl Kisters is evident for all involved.

SPECTRO is one of the largest employers in the region and is well known for its highly qualified vocational training. The company's partnership with the school helps give students valuable exposure — hopefully sparking an interest to consider potential paths — to technical careers in which qualified technical individuals can succeed in earning good salaries. For SPECTRO, there's a bonus: those careers can and have proven to be a source of quality career trainees for the company. It is truly a win/win endeavor.

SPECTRO's support for local educational institutions is multi-faceted and includes: 
• Lending technical experts to classes for the in-class instruction of physics in real applications so that students may learn about physics "in practice" and apply school lessons they have learned to real-world applications — and even career opportunities.
• Enabling two weeks of "practice time" at the company for practical, hands-on experience
• Undertaking specialty outreach programs to attract more women to experience potential careers in technology fields — which are currently a dominating 92% male.
• Hosting open house nights at SPECTRO to increase awareness of the public at large as to the benefits of specializing in a technology career.

In addition, this summer, to promote even closer contact between the school and the company, SPECTRO donated a host of additional resources, including physic kits, electronics kits, tools, and more, totaling around 5,200 EUR.

SPECTRO's vocational training results are impressive. More than 160 students have participated in the program since its inception, and the number of enrolled students increases yearly. SPECTRO currently employs a number of program interns, working students, and apprentices, as well as students working on their Bachelors/Masters theses. In fact, of the pupils who complete the vocation training portion of the program and receive degrees, approximately half are hired by SPECTRO. Many of the others continue their studies in pursuit of university diplomas, with some returning to SPECTRO for employment after earning their university diploma. 

In one shining example of "giving back," one former SPECTRO apprentice, Oliver van Well, is employed as a teacher at Karl Kisters. He will even serve as coordinator there for MINT jobs (mathematics, information technology, natural sciences, and technology).

Of SPECTRO's innovative partnership with Karl Kisters, one company manager explained it as such: "We are investing in improving the future — of our students, communities, and schools — as well as our technology, company, and industries. The truth is that we are investing in the future of us all."
 
The Secret Ingredient for Success in Metal Additive Manufacturing? ED-XRF Element Analysis. Wait. What?
The explosive growth of the relatively new practice of the additive manufacturing (3D printing) of metal parts continues — both in terms of applications (from automotive components to medical implants) and sheer volume (worldwide) of products. As a result, the industry is surging at a compounded annual growth rate of over 14% — and could reach close to US$4.5 billion by 2024.

The applications of additive manufacturing are diverse, as are the various manufacturing processes themselves — from binder jetting, sheet lamination, or powder bed fusion to directed energy deposition. 

Admittedly, the use of elemental analysis as a means of compositional analysis in most additive manufacturing/3D printing applications may be rare. But there are definite and powerful benefits from applying elemental analysis in one particular process: Powder bed fusion — which involves using a laser or electron beam for thermal energy to fuse regions in a bed of powdered metals, polymers, or fibers.

Imagine the 3D printing of metal medical or dental implants. The use of the “correct” powdered metals in its manufacturing is critical. It may even be, literally, a life-or-death criticality. Here, elemental analysis may be applied across the board in three crucial areas of compositional analysis. 

First, we want to ensure that the raw metal powder feedstock is precisely as specified in the manufacturing process. For example, was there a mix-up in sourcing? Or, is there a need to check that the initial shipment from a new supplier is up to quality? Subjecting the raw metal powder feedstock to elemental analysis would confirm that the material meets chemical specifications, achieves the tight tolerances required for proper physical characteristics, and protects against incorrect chemistry that could negatively impact a successful outcome.

When the metal powder remaining after one round of additive manufacturing is routinely re-used in subsequent manufacturing processes, elemental analysis is vital to ensure ongoing quality assurance. The goal: Detect any contamination in the reclaimed powder and ensure that material destined for re-use continues to meet the required chemical specification of the virgin powder. 

In blended powder applications, elemental analysis can again be employed — in this case, to ensure the quality of the desired blend and determine its homogeneity. 

Finally, various methods are used to sort metal powder stock. These include sieve separation, dense medium separation, floatation, electrostatic separation, and magnetic separation. Since these techniques may often produce less-than-perfect results, they should be checked in terms of chemistry. Elemental analysis again can provide the required level of quality assurance.

But which elemental analysis technology is best suited to chemical characterization applications in — and help to ensure the success of — metal additive manufacturing? At SPECTRO, we offer various options, including Arc/Spark-OES for solid metal and alloy analysis; ICP-OES for liquid or dissolved solids analysis; and ED-XRF for the analysis of anything.

Our recommendation for the method of elemental analysis as the secret ingredient for metal additive manufacturing success?

It’s a two-part answer.

1. Elemental analysis in the form of ED-XRF. Why? Minimal sample preparation. Non-destructive testing (of powders and finished parts). The extreme precision of analysis. Easily available screening tools. Excellence for trend analysis. Forensics capability to compare good to bad samples.

2. ED-XRF in the form of the portable SPECTROSCOUT analyzer. For the portability of ED-XRF analysis to anywhere in the production process while eschewing a full chemical laboratory. Plus: Excellent precision. The calibration, optimized for alloy powder, provides good accuracy. Simple sample preparation. Easy and fast analysis. 

Uncover the details of "Portable ED-XRF for Chemical Characterization in Additive Manufacturing" in our new, exclusive application report. No wait. Download now!
 
When It’s the Coating That Counts: Analyzing Coatings and Platings
In your process, you’ve just applied a coating or plating — to bring a shine to your jewelry, conductivity to your PCB board, decoration to your item, or protection to your auto part. 

But does that coating contain the correct mix of components? Was it applied correctly? Is it thick or thin enough? Does it meet every relevant spec, including environmental regulations? These factors can all be critical to producing the right coated/plated product for your customers.

Answering all these questions takes a good spectrometric analyzer. And that analyzer must be controlled by the right software package: one that’s simple, powerful, and versatile enough for a variety of businesses and industries.

However, a number of the spectrometer/software combos available on the market today may not quite measure up. Perhaps they can’t handle enough layers. Or they can’t detect the right elements you need to analyze in your application. They may simply take too long for each measurement: that’s a dealbreaker for some high-volume production lines. Or their software may be old and out of date, with distracting displays and too many menus.

Luckily, SPECTRO Analytical has recently released its SPECTRO XRF Layers Multilayer Thickness and Analysis Software. Via new purchase or an advanced upgrade, you can pair this high-performance new package with great hardware such as the popular SPECTROCUBE and SPECTRO MIDEX energy-dispersive X-ray fluorescence (ED-XRF) small-spot analyzers. 

This powerful new software is backed by the advanced German engineering that already makes SPECTRO a leader in ED-XRF spectrometry for many plating and metals analysis tasks.

Now SPECTRO XRF Layers gives you precise, reliable, nondestructive identification of the thickness and elemental composition of multilayer platings and coatings. That includes analysis of 55 elements within up to 8 layers.

So one instrument can now be empowered with the flexibility to perform three key analytical tasks:
1) Analyze elemental bulk composition with proven high performance. 
2) Measure plating/coating thickness and analyze layer composition.
3) In applications like electronics, test for compliance to environmental regulations such as RoHS.

For example, users can now add layers measurement when performing bulk composition analysis of metals or plating bath solutions, or when testing compliance via screening applications.

Our new SPECTRO XRF Layers brochure gets into more details. But basically, this software brings you several highly useful benefits, including the following:
• High usability. Simple, structured displays plus ample documentation/reporting.
• High speed. Accurate, repeatable multilayer measurement in as little as 15 seconds!
• High flexibility for multi-tasking. Bulk, thickness, and compliance analyses simultaneously.
• High precision. Short testing times yet highly precise results.

These characteristics bring exceptional advantages across a wide range of users and applications:

Jewelry platings — in jewelry manufacturing, assay offices, and hallmarking centers.

Corrosion and conversion coatings — for manufacturers of aluminum (Al) or steel sheet metal.

Electronics/PCB coatings — for quality monitoring of multiple platings on printed circuit boards and connectors.

Decorative coatings — for precise measurement to ensure contracted plating thickness.

Get all the details in our new brochure, “Introducing SPECTRO XRF Layers Multilayer Thickness and Analysis Software.” No waiting! Download now!