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Separating Solids Using 'Mass' Mass Spectrometry

Why not use the theory behind mass spectrometry to separate solids at the atomic level.
  [vote for,

I've been thinking a lot about electronic waste and the valuable elements contained in capacitors, transistors etc. Rather than go to all the hazardous, not to mention wasteful chemical separation processes to recover elements, why not just lump all these things together into one super powered solid distillation device? Here's what I had in mind.

1.Grind electronic waste into tiny particles
2.Heat electronic waste under vacuum using enough plasma converters to vaporise elements into a gas.
3. Fire the resulting plasma ion stream into a magnetic separation chamber with a strong enough magnetic field to separate ions based on their atomic weights.
4. At the other end of the chamber, produce little 'gates' that separate the ions based on the amount of deflection each experienced in the magnetic field.
5. Neutralise the ions
6. Collect your elements in nice little buckets!

Basically ICPMS but on an industrial scale. C'mon, shoot me down, tell me WHY it can't work?!

CookieCutter, Apr 07 2014

An earlier version of this Idea Elesorter_20(and_20Isosorter)
The "Isosorter" portion... [Vernon, Apr 07 2014]

Photoelectric electrostatic separation
[xaviergisz, Apr 07 2014]

magnetic separator
[xaviergisz, Apr 07 2014]

Calutron http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calutron
Widely known to exist. [8th of 7, Apr 08 2014]

Home-made cookie cutters http://makerschmitt...cookie-cutters.html
just to welcome our new member here more [sophocles, Apr 08 2014]

Cauldron http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cauldron http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cauldron
Widely known to exist. [AusCan531, Apr 08 2014]


       It would probably not work mainly because of cost.   

       U235 is one of the more valuable materials in existence, and yet extraction of U235 is generally not done via plasma magnetic separation (I keep reading reference to a "new" laser based technique, but I'm pretty sure it's not what you're describing anyway). So if they don't use magnetic separation for some of the most valuable materials known to man, why would they use it for extraction of materials which are multiple orders of magnitude less valuable?   

       I mean it's a good idea, I'm just not sure the economics are right. It's not a new idea, by the way.
Custardguts, Apr 07 2014

       What he said above, but he neglected to welcome you to the Halfbakery. When in doubt, help file is on the left under meta.
normzone, Apr 07 2014

       Your maximum theoretical yield is one atom per electron. Which is not a show stopper - that's what you get in electroplating, which seems to work fine.   

       However, you're going to heat everything up to a plasma state. That takes a considerable amount of energy. Make sure everything is dissociated to atoms - unfortunately, there'll be a non-negligible loss because not everything will cooperate. Then direct the atoms or molecules into their receptacles while plasmatic (read that as "characterized by highly random, highly energetic motion") and you might expect a good deal of further non-cooperativeness.   

       So you get markedly less than your theoretical max yield, while pumping in grundles of non-free energy. Oh, did I forget to mention that it's going to take a very handsome, expensive, shiny and large device to tolerate all that energy and not go "BOOM" or turn dark, ugly and limp? I am certain someone would like to sell you said device, assuming it doesn't come with a warranty of performance or suitability to task.
lurch, Apr 07 2014

       Wow, the earlier version of this idea was far more thorough than mine!   

       Thanks for the welcome. I DID try to Google it, but blood plasma took over every single search : (   

       Oh well, back to the drawing board.
CookieCutter, Apr 07 2014

       As has already been pointed out, vaporising metals is incredibly energy intensive.   

       I agree that the electronic waste could be better sorted and recycled. I have linked to two of my ideas that sort material; the photoelectric separator operates on either solid or dissolved metals, while the magnetic separator is for solids only.
xaviergisz, Apr 08 2014

       What [normzone] said - I didn't spot you was a new'n.
Custardguts, Apr 08 2014

       Cheers [Custardguts]. FYI I wasn't expecting the intellectual discourse to be quite so intricate. I'll spend more time hatching my next 1/2 brained idea, pitch to the audience.
CookieCutter, Apr 08 2014

       Ah, but therein lies the mystery at the heart of the enigma. These hallowed URL's contain a diuerse spectrum of debate, ranging from phd holders sniping at each other over points of technicality (and tedium) - all the way through to pun-off's and genitalia humour. It's a fickle place, and I'm not sure there's rhyme, reason or algorithm for determining what would do well or not so well here.   

       It's also been here a long time. Some of these players have been around for around 15 years. Some are, in their private lives, well known and (supposedly) respected professionals at the fore front of their fields of expertise. Some of us are ... less so. You'll work it out. There's a nucleus of long-term high participation individuals, with varying layers outside that, all of which waxes and wanes with time.   

       Please note, there's also some things here that some members hold very dear. We have lost people. Dear, wonderful people. Tread lightly when you think you've stumbled across any of those secret gardens. They're there, for us all to enjoy, and go back to from time to time, and remember. Please respect those memories.   

       Above all, enjoy your time here, there's some really nice people kicking about. We might jump right on a technicality, or casually point out that something exists, or has no right to. Some of us have some abrasive idisyncrasies, but we'll also generally swing into support of things that charm us, pique our interest, get us thinking, or kick us off down new avenues of thought.   

       This idea is a good one, although I beleive it's also well-trodden ground. I personally think it would work but wouldn't be worth it unless you had something very specific that was very worthwhile to extract. Often things just won't work, but why they won't work is where all the fun is.
Custardguts, Apr 08 2014

       Calutron <link>.   

       What everyone else said.   

       If you're only after one element/isotope then a quadrupole mass spec has the edge on a magnetic sector device.   

       The energy required to produce the plasma is the killer.
8th of 7, Apr 08 2014

       Welcome to the HB, [Cookie]! I wonder if this might work in some situations. For instance, if you're mining on the moon, the cost of energy (from solar) might be less important than the cost of building a complex conventional refinery. Maybe.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 08 2014

       Interesting you should say that [MaxwellBuchanan]. I was actually thinking about space junk at the time, and wondering how you could could melt it all down, and separate it out. Then I thought about ion drives used in propulsion, then I ended up here.   

       Funny, even the crazy ideas aren't original : )
CookieCutter, Apr 08 2014

       "I DID try to Google it, but blood plasma took over every single search"   

       The answer to that is something like this (pretend the brackets represent the search box):
[plasma -blood]

       The minus-sign tells the search engine to exclude the word "blood" from the search results.
Vernon, Apr 08 2014

       // I was actually thinking about space junk at the time//   

       I suspect it's not viable for space junk, at least in NEO. It'll probably be easier to bring the stuff back to Earth, if it's worth mining for its rare elements, than to process it this way in orbit.   

       But for a very remote operation, where power was free, and where you wanted to recover a range of elements, this might be viable.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 08 2014

       // where power was free //   

       Is the lunch free as well ?   

       One of the advantages of conventional distillation is that, with good design, a lot of the input energy can be recovered. Oil refineries rely on this, heating the feedstock with energy recovered from the distillation and cracking towers. Many other chemical processes do the same.   

       With magnetic ion separation, there are a lot of non-recoverable losses; conversion of heat to electrical energy, iron and copper losses in the magnets, energy for the vacuum pumps, and the conversion of solid feedstocks into plasma.   

       On the plus side, the product shoud be isotopically pure.
8th of 7, Apr 08 2014

       Throw it all back in the volcano, and let nature have her way with it.
RayfordSteele, Apr 08 2014

       [RayfordSteele] Yes, the solution to pollution is dilution. But, not everything you throw in a volcano stays there. Actually, immediately, you get some pretty nasty vapors. Luckily, I guess the heavy metals won't drift too far away from the volcano.
sophocles, Apr 08 2014

       //power was free// & //lunch free as well?//   

       Power can be free if it's somewhere where there's no lunch. Likewise, lunch may be free if there's nothing to cook it with.   

       //Wow, the earlier version ... was far more thorough// [CookieCutter], you have just been introduced to [Vernon]. Anytime you can hit PageDown more than 3 times on an idea, expect to see his name at the bottom.
lurch, Apr 08 2014

       //Anytime you can hit PageDown more than 3 times on an idea, expect to see his name at the bottom.//   

       Yeah, we even asked him to start using a synopsis. Some of his synopses go on for several paragraphs.
Custardguts, Apr 08 2014

       Hey, I've noticed Vernon got much more concise lately. Give him credit! Oh, & CookieCutter, check out the cookie cutters I made recently for fun (see link)
sophocles, Apr 08 2014

       Awesome use of 3D printing [sophocles]. We could use these plasma beam Cookie Cutters ... what's best, they're powered by love : )
CookieCutter, Apr 08 2014

       // even the crazy ideas aren't original //   

       Often the case. Any lunatic can have a crazy idea, and many often do. The trick is to make sure the right lunatics are listened to.
Alterother, Apr 09 2014


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