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Direct Titanium Production from Titanium Slag

University of Utah

A Novel Chemical Pathway for Titanium Production

Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$4,996,597
Location: 
Salt Lake City, UT
Project Term: 
02/18/2014 to 06/30/2019
Project Status: 
ACTIVE
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 

Primary production of lightweight metals such as titanium is an energy-intensive and expensive process that results in significant carbon dioxide (CO2) and other emissions. Lowering the energy consumption, cost, and emissions associated with processing titanium would make it more competitive with incumbent structural metals such as steel. Enabling more widespread use of titanium in the aerospace, energy, and industrial sectors--without compromising performance or safety--would substantially reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions from its applications.

Project Innovation + Advantages: 

The University of Utah is developing a reactor that dramatically simplifies titanium production compared to conventional processes. Today's production processes are expensive and inefficient because they require several high-energy melting steps to separate titanium from its ores. The University of Utah's reactor utilizes a magnesium hydride solution as a reducing agent to break less expensive titanium ore into its components in a single step. By processing low-grade ore directly, the titanium can be chemically isolated from other impurities. This design eliminates the series of complex, high-energy melting steps associated with current titanium production. Consolidating several energy intensive steps into one reduces both the cost and energy inputs associated with titanium extraction.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, the University of Utah's reactor would significantly reduce energy inputs and costs for titanium used in aerospace, energy, and industrial applications compared to conventional titanium production methods.

Security: 

Light-weighting aircraft and other vehicles to improve fuel efficiency could reduce U.S. dependence on foreign fossil fuel resources used in the aerospace industry.

Environment: 

Consolidating production steps could reduce energy consumption in titanium primary metal production by 62% and reduce CO2 emissions by eliminating high-energy melting steps.

Economy: 

Simplifying titanium extraction and decreasing material inputs could make titanium cost-competitive with stainless steel for transportation applications, particularly in aircraft.

Innovation Update: 
(As of March 2017) 
The University of Utah (Utah) is working with its partners, Boeing and Arconic, to design new scope and testing protocols to enable the team to fully scale and validate their products over the next two years. The goal is to improve Utah’s “hydrogen assisted magnesiothermic reduction” (HAMR) process for production of commercially pure titanium (Ti) for higher volume markets. The team’s success developing spherical powders offers an ideal first market, with a high value product for the rapidly growing additive manufacturing industry. Utah has spun out a small company, FTP Manufacturing, to produce custom alloys in small batches for customers to test and improve their 3D printing performance. 
 
Utah’s novel process extracts Ti metal from ore in a way that reduces cost, energy consumption, and emissions. The team discovered that Ti-O can be destabilized using hydrogen, making it possible to turn the reduction of titanium dioxide (TiO2) with Magnesium (Mg) from thermodynamically impossible to thermodynamically favored. This allows TiO2 to be reduced and de-oxygenated directly by Mg to form Titanium Hydride (TiH2), with low oxygen levels that meet the industry standard. TiH2 can be further processed to Ti metal through industry standard processes. The deoxygenation process that Utah invented has enabled a new means to produce high-quality spherical powders of Ti and Ti alloys, a high-value feedstock for 3D printing
 
For a detailed assessment of the University of Utah project and impact, please click here.


Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. David Tew
Project Contact: 
Prof. Z. Zak Fang
Partners
RTI International Metals, Inc.
The Boeing Company
Release Date: 
9/19/2013