Posted on 2/22/2012 4:03 PM by Grace Jeffers

This great question, from Jake Sollins, the New Materials Librarian at California College of the Arts, intrigued me. He asked:

"Someone told me that the aluminum scraps used in the Alkemi material are repurposed in this way because they cannot be recycled. Is this true? And if so, aluminum is one of the most easily recycled materials. Why can't these flakes be recycled?"

Alkemi is a solid surfacing material that is unlike other solid surfacing materials. It comes in a thick sheet, much like Corian-type solid surfacing, but it has a translucent quality more like a 3 Form-type product. I forwarded Jake’s question on to Demir Hamami at Renewed Materials, the manufacturers of Alkemi. 

Hamami responded: 

“This is a question that requires us to examine the theory versus the actual practices of aluminum recycling centers. Yes, aluminum is highly recyclable but you have to know how it is recycled and understand that not all centers recycle the same way. Flake aluminum is very small, thin and light and this size particulate can only be recycled by the compression technique where it is pounded into ingots. Also, the flake must be of a consistent alloy and this is hard to control in recycling.  Compression is a very expensive technique and 90 percent of recycling centers do not do it.

Smelting is the most common process. The smelting of aluminum is accomplished by melting the material at an intense heat, about 1100 degrees Fahrenheit. When flake is introduced to this heat the pieces are too small to actually melt, instead they turn into black smoke which is actually a suspension of aluminum molecules in air, metal smoke. This black smoke is highly toxic and polluting and it is even illegal in some states. We have so much metal in the atmosphere, iron, aluminum, mercury, and zinc, because of plants that burn metal and turned into smoke.

Alkemi is an alternative solution to recycling aluminum flake. Flake is repurposed as a strong and decorative inclusion in slabs of Alkemi product."

Hamani explains further, “I am also an industrial designer and regarding one of my projects, I was visiting an aluminum shop and saw dumpsters filled with this scrap and the shop explained that this was being landfilled.” He saw the problem and invented a solution, by mixing it into resin and casting it into a solid surfacing type material.

Alkemi was considered such a creative solution to aluminum flake recycling that the Chemical Heritage Foundation, a scientist run educational organization, specified it for their headquarters in Philadelphia.

Award winning ALKEMI-polyester is a SCS certified, LEED compliant, recycled surface material composed of post-industrial scrap waste (34 percent by weight—as certified—or 60 percent by volume). 

In addition to ALKEMI-polyester, Renewed Materials also carries ALKEMI-acrylic, which has SCS certified 91 percent recycled acrylic content. 

Environmental responsibility never looked so good!

Bio: Jeffers received her masters in Decorative Art History at the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts and was one of the first in her field to focus her attention on materials instead of the objects that they became. Her pioneering work conserving the Ralph Wilson House in Temple, Texas was awarded the Honor Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the house is the only structure on the National Register of Historic Places listed because of its use of material. Her approach is a synthesis of design history, materials science and cultural anthropology. And for the past eight years she has been working on an encyclopaedia of modern materials.