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Entropy analysis of metal production and recycling

Stefan Gößling‐Reisemann (Division of Technological Design and Development, Faculty of Production Engineering, University of Bremen, Bremen, Germany)

Management of Environmental Quality

ISSN: 1477-7835

Article publication date: 13 June 2008




The paper attempts to address both resource consumption and recycling effectiveness, using concepts from thermodynamics: entropy production for evaluating the costs (resource consumption) and statistical entropy for evaluating the benefits (separation of materials) of recycling processes.


Resource consumption, in this context, is to be understood as the overall thermodynamic devaluation of matter and energy flows. The recycling effectiveness, on the other hand, can be measured by the process's ability to reduce the “mixedness” of the material flows, using statistical entropy (entropy of mixing) as an indicator. Statistical entropy has been used by others as an indicator for the performance of waste separation processes, and its application to metal recycling seems straightforward. Entropy production has been applied as a measure for resource consumption in copper production. Here, the two concepts are combined to reach an expression describing the resource efficiency of recycling.


The theoretical description of the approach is supported by an example calculation for copper recycling. The findings suggest a near perfect effectiveness of the copper separation when processing medium grade copper scrap in a primary copper smelter. The resource consumption, on the other hand, is quite large when compared to the service of the process, giving rise to a rather small thermodynamic efficiency (in terms of the definition of efficiency as applied in this paper).

Research limitations/implications

Both measures used here, recycling efficiency and recycling effectiveness, are very demanding concerning the data basis, making applications time consuming. These drawbacks can be overcome by linking material flow tools (e.g. LCA software) with thermodynamic databases. More examples have to be considered to show the practical relevance of the approach.


The paper addresses effectiveness and efficiency using a common denominator, thermodynamic entropy. This unification helps in ranking different recycling options regarding their performance in terms of technical effectiveness and resource consumption.



Gößling‐Reisemann, S. (2008), "Entropy analysis of metal production and recycling", Management of Environmental Quality, Vol. 19 No. 4, pp. 487-492.



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Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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