Ferrous vs Non-Ferrous Metals

Metal building materials can be separated into two general categories depending on whether they do, or do not, contain iron – referred to as ferrous and non-ferrous, respectively. The strengths and weaknesses of iron lend these two groups both certain advantages and disadvantages. Though each is valued for its own specific qualities, note that ferrous scrap is frequently in ready supply, thanks to the massive popularity of iron and steel in the construction and automotive industries. Non-ferrous metals
, including aluminum, copper, zinc, and titanium, have a lower availability for recycling, and as such tend to be more expensive even in scrap form.

Differentiating between Ferrous and Non-Ferrous Metals

There are a couple of steps that you, as a consumer, can take to determine whether or not a given metal or piece of scrap is ferrous. Rust is, by definition, an iron oxide – so it’s a pretty good rule of thumb that if you see rust, you’re dealing with a ferrous metal. Note that wrought iron – a form so pure that it will resist oxidation – and stainless steel – with its high chromium content – are both ferrous materials that are protected against rust. Another method for differentiation is the use of a magnet. Though exceptions exist on both ends, most ferrous metals are magnetic, and nearly all non-ferrous metals are not.

Uses of Each Type

Generally speaking, ferrous metals are used for high-strength applications, such as engineering, construction, and automobile manufacturing. You’ll also find them in just about any appliance or component that needs a magnetic feature, like the household refrigerator.Ferrous Metal

Non-ferrous metals, on the other hand, are typically best for applications that require a combination of strength and low weight. Metals like aluminum and magnesium are commonly used in the manufacture of aircraft, for instance. Resistance or immunity to rust is a useful characteristic as well, and one of the primary reasons that aluminum is used in the canning industry. The non-magnetic properties of most of these metals also make them ideal for electrical and electronic insulation applications.

Recycling Processes

Millions of tons of metal scrap, both ferrous and non-ferrous, are recovered each year. Modern recycling processes are generally quite efficient at reclaiming usable material – and, in fact, even new metals can sometimes require recycled ones as a component. Elements like aluminum are so prized that the value of scrap can easily exceed the cost of the recycling process. Metals must first be sorted into ferrous and non-ferrous groups – magnets are often helpful here – and like materials are then melted down and re-shaped into ingots.

Madison Steel is a leader in the supply of steel and non-ferrous recyclables and reclaimed material. Contact us today for more information on our services.