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New tin can recycling centers to result from UConn research (Released: 8/6/97)

by Renu Sehgal-Aldrich, Office of University Communications.

STORRS, Conn. -- Millions of tin cans thrown away or recycled will get new lives. The University of Connecticut’s Environmental Research Institute (ERI) has created a better way to recycle the nearly 100 million tin cans used and discarded daily in the United States, helping to revive the country’s steel industry.

"Tin cans are made with steel of the highest quality, but the tin coating makes any steel recycled from the cans brittle and less ductile," said John Dresty, the executive director of the Pollution Prevention Research & Development Center at ERI and one of the developers of the new recycling process. "While prior de-tinning technology exists, it is unable to remove the tin coating effectively and in an environmentally friendly way."

Dresty, PPRDC Director Jim Fenton and Richard J. Bodensteiner, who received his master’s degree in chemical engineering at UConn in 1996 have developed an electrochemical process that treats tin cans as anodes and selectively removes tin from steel without dissolving the steel or generating waste streams. The recycled steel can then be sold to the steel industry as an abundant new source of high quality raw material. UConn has applied for a patent on the process.

"Sheet steel is increasingly produced in Asia and Europe," Dresty said. "To bring back some of the market to America, steel mini-mills have developed new technology to make low-cost sheet steel. But there isn't enough suitable scrap raw material to feed these mills. Tin cans are a perfect source once the tin is removed. Our new process will open up a potential source of a million tons per year of raw material within 3-5 years, significantly helping to solve the problem."

Access Connecticut LP -- a venture capital fund created by Connecticut Innovations Inc. and managed by Access Management Services Inc., a Prince Ventures subsidiary, to develop and commercialize research from universities in the state -- has formed Yukon ReSteel Corp. to build and operate processing plants around the country utilizing the new de-tinning technology. UConn has reached agreement with Yukon ReSteel for an exclusive worldwide license for the technology. Yukon ReSteel plans to build its first plant and establish its headquarters in Connecticut.

UConn’s ERI was started in 1987 to conduct research to advance environmental technologies and the understanding of natural systems that would help businesses and state agencies more effectively manage environmental concerns. The institute has tailored its research to produce spin-off products and technologies with commercial and employment potential for state companies. Researchers and graduate students either develop the technologies themselves or test and improve those generated by businesses.