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New refining process could lower cost of titanium by 60%

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October 8, 2013

A high purity titanium bar (Photo: Heinrich Pniok)

A high purity titanium bar (Photo: Heinrich Pniok)

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) have been selected by ARPA-E, the US government's Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy, to carry out a one year project aimed at developing a low cost method to obtain titanium metal from its ore. It is thought that the process could lower the cost of the metal by up to 60 percent.

Titanium can be made into structural materials that are extremely strong for their weight and show excellent resistance to corrosion. It is used in a number of high-value applications in aerospace, defense, medicine, and transportation. Although titanium and its alloys could be used in many other applications, titanium metal is notoriously difficult to refine and purify from its various ores.

The cost of titanium metal is currently about six US dollars per kilogram, compared to steel at under a dollar per kilogram, and aluminum alloy at under two dollars per kilogram. About half of this is the cost of magnesium metal that is used up in the refining process. Fabricating titanium products is also rather difficult, with the result that titanium is used in very few products in which another structural metal is found satisfactory.

The $675K ARPA-E award will be used by the CWRU team, led by Associate Professor Rohan Akolkar, will be developing a process based on electrowinning, a form of electroplating, to directly extract titanium from molten titanium salts. Electrolytically extracted titanium is expected to contain fewer impurities and therefore have superior mechanical properties as extracted.

The team’s proposal has the potential of considerably expanding the domestic titanium production industry and lower reliance on titanium imports. While cheaper titanium will not solve the difficulties in fabricating titanium products, it should make this very useful metal practical to use in a wider range of products that can benefit from its desirable mechanical and chemical properties.

Source: Case Western Reserve University

About the Author
Brian Dodson From an early age Brian wanted to become a scientist. He did, earning a Ph.D. in physics and embarking on an R&D career which has recently broken the 40th anniversary. What he didn't expect was that along the way he would become a patent agent, a rocket scientist, a gourmet cook, a biotech entrepreneur, an opera tenor and a science writer.   All articles by Brian Dodson
5 Comments

It is an excellent news, but manufacturing titanium, was always bigger problem.

The price of a final product will drop a little, as not many companies can make it.

Vladimir Popov
9th October, 2013 @ 05:45 am PDT

perhaps it can now coat an underlying structure instead on manufacturing it just layer it on a substructure using same process...

science ninja
9th October, 2013 @ 10:02 am PDT

As someone who builds lot of things Titanium at $3/kg looks very good as you get a lot more volume/kg/$.

This volume allows the same stiffness in 30% of the weight of steel. Similar for Alum. YMMV

Fact is at $6/kg isn't bad, last time I look it was higher, as it goes a long ways, corrosion resistant and the weight savings allow other things to be lighter, lowering costs and increasing performance.

Something about designing steel is you have to use more to allow for rusting for the safety margin, increasing it's weight, cost.

jerryd
9th October, 2013 @ 10:09 am PDT

Find a way to 3D print stuff, and then you'll have something.

Captain Obvious
9th October, 2013 @ 11:22 am PDT

@Captain Obvious: Someone already did: http://www.gizmag.com/go/5312/ This process could produce titanium nano power easier than solid blocks. Use that with the printer from the link and you have solid 3d printed titanium parts for less than half the cost of current parts.

VirtualGathis
10th October, 2013 @ 10:12 am PDT
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