As energy, environmental remediation and raw material costs for hardmetal production escalate with increasing demand, the need for developing and implementing technologies for reducing environmental impact becomes more urgent, while, at the same time, reducing material cost. A range of technologies can be employed for recycling hard and soft hardmetal scrap which consume less energy and require lower capital investment than for virgin powder. Performance and processing targets with recycled materials must be equivalent to those from virgin material. Conventional solvent based processing can be replaced by water based processing of hardmetal compositions to reduce environmentally damaging emissions and associated costs. This will be particularly useful as government regulations move to reduce or eliminate emission of organic solvents. Raw material consumption can be reduced by employing near-net-shape or net-shape technologies, since many hardmetal parts are finished by hard grinding, which generates grinding sludge. Partial or complete replacement of WC/Co with other hardmetals is another strategy worthy of consideration in reducing the impact of hardmetal production on the environment.

Hardmetals play a critical role in myriad industrial processes including manufacturing, energy production, construction, wear resistant applications, etc. As a result, sustainable hardmetal production is of paramount importance in supporting the modern industrial base, especially as it expands with global population growth and elevated standards of living. Concurrently, reduction of environmental impact has become more urgent as harmful emissions remediation costs have escalated, or has been completely outlawed. A majority of W production is used to meet the demand for hardmetals, so considerations for W supply chain are critical to hardmetal production.

This article appeared in the July–August issue of Metal Powder Report.

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