Ferrous vs Non-Ferrous Metals

Many people are unsure of the difference between ferrous metals and non-ferrous metals. Ferrous metals contain iron, while non-ferrous metals do not contain iron. Both ferrous metals like iron and steel, and non-ferrous metals like copper, aluminium and lead play an important role in our daily lives.

In this article, we will explain the main differences between ferrous metals and non-ferrous metals, where to find each type of metal, and why recycling non-ferrous metals is important.

What are Ferrous Metals?

Ferrous metals, as mentioned earlier, refer to types of metal that contain iron such as iron itself and steel. Pure iron is a versatile metal that is strong yet malleable. It can be found integrated in structures like beams and poles used in buildings due to its strength. Steel contains both iron and carbon and can be shaped into various items like cans, vehicles, appliances and more through different processes. Common ferrous metals used worldwide include:

  • Iron – One of the most abundant metals on Earth, it forms the core of our planet. Malleable and strong.
  • Steel – An alloy of iron and carbon. Very strong and versatile material widely used.
  • Cast iron – Iron with added carbon that is poured into molds. Used for pipes and manhole covers.

a pile of ferrous metal scraps

Where to Find Ferrous Metals?

Ferrous metals can often be spotted all around us. As mentioned, iron is used extensively in large structures like buildings due to its strength. You may find:

  • Steel beams holding up floors and roofs in buildings, bridges and more.
  • Steel panels and frames forming vehicles like cars, trains and ships.
  • Iron fixtures inside buildings like pipes, radiators and bathtubs that distribute water.
  • Steel drums and cans that stored goods come in before being recycled.
  • Other household items with iron like fry pans, knifes and tools.

What are Non-Ferrous Metals?

While ferrous metals contain iron, non-ferrous metals are defined as those that do not contain iron in their composition. These alternatives to ferrous metal play important roles in modern technology and everyday products. Some key things to know about non-ferrous metals:

  • Copper is a conductive metal with many applications, from wiring to cookware. It can be found in its pure reddish form or as brass (copper-zinc alloy).
  • Aluminium – A very lightweight yet durable metal used widely in cans, aircraft and more. Recyclable.
  • Lead – A dense metal primarily used in batteries for vehicles and machinery. Also used to shield against radiation.
  • Zinc – Known for galvanising steel, making it corrosion resistant for longer life. Used in dry cell batteries.
  • Tin – Used as a protective plating on steel (tin cans) and combined with other metals like copper and antimony for solders.

a pile of non ferrous metal objects

Where to Find Non-Ferrous Metals?

Given their various applications, non-ferrous metals can be discovered in many locations around us:

  • Copper is used extensively in electronic cables, plumbing pipes, and roofing. It may also be found in electrical wiring, hot water piping, and domes on some buildings.
  • Aluminium regularly appears as beverage cans, food foil and other lightweight packaging. Transport also utilises much aluminium, from plane bodies to auto parts.
  • Lead acid batteries can power vehicles, boats, motorbikes, mobility scooters and Standby backup systems.
  • Zinc coatings protect items like metal roofing, gutters and downpipes from the elements by galvanisation.
  • Bronze doorknobs, taps, valves and memorial plaques all benefit from bronze durability and workability.

The Main Difference Between Ferrous and Non-Ferrous Metals

The key distinguishing factor between ferrous and non-ferrous metals comes down to their composition. Ferrous metals contain iron as a major component, with examples being cast iron, steel and wrought iron. Non-ferrous alternatives lack iron, and may instead have other prominent elements like copper, aluminium, lead or zinc as their base.

Physically, ferrous metals are often grey or silvery in colour compared to the reds, golds and silvers seen in non-ferrous types. Ferrous metal density also tends to be higher than non-ferrous options.

Magnetism sets the two categories apart as well. A ferrous metal like iron or steel will be magnetised due to its iron content. Non-ferrous varieties resist magnetism since iron is not present.

Corrosion resistance diverges also, as the iron in ferrous metal makes it prone to rusting. Galvanisation or other protective coatings are regularly applied to slow corrosion. Many non-ferrous metals withstand corrosion much better than ferrous without additional layers.

a crane lifting a large pile of metal

Which to Sell Ferrous or Non-Ferrous Metals?

When deciding which scrap metal type generates more profit through recycling, non-ferrous metals usually offer higher returns than their ferrous counterparts. This is because non-ferrous commodities like aluminium, copper, lead and zinc are in greater demand globally due to multiple industrial and technology applications.

Since non-ferrous metals are less common than iron yet highly usable, their market value tends to be higher per ton than that of ferrous grades. Copper scrap, for instance, earns up to 4-5 times the price of similar-weight steel scrap. Aluminium also fetches a premium versus iron-content metals.

Some other advantages of non-ferrous metal recycling include:

  • Purity levels remain consistent between new and recycled material, allowing closed-loop manufacturing.
  • Processing is generally less energy-intensive than extracting ferrous metals from raw ore.
  • Supply demand imbalance favours non-ferrous given their critical roles in modern infrastructure and electronics.

Recycle Your Non-Ferrous Metals with Metro Copper

If you have non-ferrous scrap metals like copper, aluminium, brass or lead taking up storage space, consider recycling them for solid returns with Metro Copper Recycling. This article outlines that these metal types provide greater value than ferrous alternatives due to broader applications and supply/demand factors globally.

Metro Copper has been a leading non-ferrous recycler in Melbourne, Australia for over 30 years. We purchase all grades of copper, aluminium, zinc, bronze and other mixed non-ferrous loads. Power line drop-outs, electrical cable, copper pipe, machine turnings and more are among the scrap varieties regularly processed at our facility.

Not only do we pay competitively for non-ferrous scrap, our team also offers free scrap metal collection from both commercial and residential locations*. To get the best price for scrap copper in Melbourne, simply give us a call to request pickup of your recyclable haul. Next time, industrial maintenance or a renovation project generates metal waste, so turn it into cash with Metro’s recycling services rather than disposal.

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