Recently I had the same idea as given at A question about the properties of plasma and its potential use in recycling, or a similar one, rather. The basic idea is: could you turn stuff into plasma and sort the atoms by element? The answer appears to be roughly: yes, with difficulty. I have a few followup questions. Suppose you used pulsed lasers to focus on a point, to quickly turn that spot into a plasma. (That works, right?) You may suppose the presence of a vacuum, since I suspect that simplifies a number of things.
- What kind of laser would be sufficient for that?
- How much energy would be approximately optimal, in how much time and space? (You need a certain minimum energy per cm^2, I think, but my understanding is also that if you simply try to pour more and more energy into a spot at once, the plasma absorbs it and you don't do much more to the remaining material.)
- How much does the material in question affect the required temperatures? (I haven't been able to find many numbers, such as the minimum plasma temperature of iron.)
Is a laser like this even approximately sufficient, or would it require a much higher powered laser? Ballpark estimates are ok; preferable would be links to commercial lasers that would work.