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Updated: April 3, 2023 / 2023 Manufacturing Excellence Awards

Manufacturing awards: VALIS develops technology to improve scrap recycling

Photo | Courtesy of VALIS VALIS Chief Technology Officer Caleb Ralphs examines the company's software performance at a metal recycler.

VALIS does not manufacture anything. Instead, the Worcester-based startup, which grew out of an idea at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the Leominster research-and-development company Solvus Global, gives recycling factories solutions by offering them proprietary software to help them make decisions and provide solutions about what to do with the materials those recyclers have collected.

The company’s VALI-Sort software can integrate with sensor-based recycling technology to capture and collect material data, as well as additional industry data streams. The information gives recyclers the ability to see and sort the materials they have collected, specifically industrial materials like metal.

“To effectively recycle, you need to know what it is,” VALIS CEO and Co-founder Emily Molstad said.

Until VALIS came along, the process of figuring out what materials were recycled was done manually. Now the software can scan and learn, which gives recyclers an advantage and a stockpile of data so they can explore the marketplace.

All of this allows those recycling companies to upcycle the materials instead of downcycling, where they make less profit and end up removing some of the valuable metals from the manufacturing stream. Now, those valuable materials can be used again, somewhat replacing the need to mine raw materials and form new metals, which is harmful for the environment. Take aluminum, for example, which takes 95% less energy to recycle than it does to produce new aluminum, said Molstad.

To help VALIS grow, Mostad has led or helped raise more than $5 million in funding from the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the U.S. Department of Energy. The VALIS team was named a finalist for The Climate Award for the 2022 MassChallenge Early-Stage cohort, which is a global accelerator program providing tools, resources, and talent for entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.

In mid-April, the VALIS team will host a panel at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Convention & Exposition in Nashville, Tennessee, on the various ways technology can improve the scrap recycling industry. The panel at the expo, attended by more than 6,000 international industry professionals, is part of VALIS’ effort to create a more circular economy, where materials are reused over and over again instead of being discarded after one use.

To further this goal, the company pairs its VALI-Sort software with the VALI-Melt software, which offers insight into the optimal conditions to melt any particular piece of recycled metal. The scrap recyclers can then pass this data onto the companies who will use the recycled aluminum. Metallurgists and melt technicians can increase the efficiency and profitability of their operations, and purchasing managers can stay up to date on material trends, track vendor quality, and make more informed purchasing decisions.

Looking further down the road, the company is looking to pair these two software tools under the VALI-Cycle system, which will track material through the value chain and adjust sorting and blending based on market trends. Molstad and her team are seeking grant funding to back the research and development of VALI-Cycle, with an estimated project launch in 2026.

2023 Manufacturing Excellence Awards

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