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Aluminum Production Using Zirconia Solid Electrolyte

Clean Efficient Aluminum Oxide Electrolysis with SOM Inert Anodes
ARPA-E Award: 
Natick, MA
Project Term: 
12/12/2013 to 12/10/2016
Project Status: 
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 
Primary production of lightweight metals such as aluminum is an energy-intensive and expensive process that results in significant carbon dioxide (CO2) and other hazardous and corrosive emissions. Lowering the energy consumption, cost, and emissions associated with processing aluminum would make it competitive with incumbent structural metals such as steel. Enabling its widespread use in vehicles in particular--without compromising performance or safety--would substantially reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions from transportation.
Project Innovation + Advantages: 
INFINIUM is developing a technology to produce light metals such as aluminum and titanium using an electrochemical cell design that could reduce energy consumption associated with these processes by over 50%. The key component of this innovation lies within the anode assembly used to electrochemically refine these light metals from their ores. While traditional processes use costly graphite anodes that are reacted to produce CO2 during refining, INFINIUM's anode can use much cheaper fuels such as natural gas, and produce a high-purity oxygen by-product. Revenue from this by-product could significantly affect aluminum production economics. Traditional cell designs also waste a great deal of heat due to the necessity of keeping the reactor open to the air while contaminated CO2 rapidly exits the chamber. Since INFINIUM's anode keeps the oxygen or CO2 anode gas away from the main reactor chamber, the entire system may be far more effectively insulated.
Potential Impact: 
If successful, INFINIUM would deploy low-cost, energy-efficient aluminum-production cells as a drop-in replacement into large production plants.
Light-weighting vehicles to improve fuel efficiency could reduce U.S. dependence on foreign fossil fuel resources used in the transportation industry.
Transforming aluminum production could reduce harmful CO2 emissions by 50-90% and completely eliminate other emissions compared to conventional processing methods.
Retrofitting existing aluminum plants reduces risk and capital costs, making light metals a more cost effective option in manufacturing. This technology also enables aluminum plants to replace expensive graphite with cheap, domestically available natural gas as a key component of light metal manufacturing.
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Paul Albertus
Project Contact: 
Dr. Adam Powell
Boston University
Release Date: