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High-Efficiency Titanium Production

Boston Electrometallurgical Corporation

Revolutionary Process for Low-Cost Titanium

Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$2,279,027
Location: 
Woburn, MA
Project Term: 
05/05/2016 to 07/31/2018
Project Status: 
ALUMNI
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 

Titanium (Ti) metal is an attractive replacement for aluminum or steel for airliner or vehicle components because titanium is more corrosion resistant and has a much higher strength-to-weight ratio than other metals. Moreover, Ti's superior corrosion resistance, relative to other metals, could enable capturing large quantities of unrecovered industrial waste heat by using Ti heat exchangers in industrial processes. Most titanium producers use the Kroll process to extract titanium from titanium oxide ore (called "rutile"). However, this process is very labor- and energy-intensive, produces hazardous waste, and results in relatively small quantities of Ti sponge. Furthermore, this resulting Ti sponge must be separated from the magnesium chloride reaction product through several stages of high temperature vacuum distillation and re-melting - a process that is also labor- and energy-intensive. Innovations to reduce the cost and energy required to produce Ti could significantly reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in both air and land based transportation.

Project Innovation + Advantages: 

Boston Electrometallurgical Corporation will develop and scale a one step molten oxide electrolysis process for producing Ti metal directly from the oxide. Titanium oxide is dissolved in a molten oxide, where it is directly and efficiently extracted as molten titanium metal. In this process, electrolysis is used to separate the product from the solution as a bottom layer that can then be removed from the reactor in its molten state. If successful, it could replace the multistep Kroll process with a one-step process that resembles today's aluminum production techniques. If successful, Ti ingots could be produced at cost parity with stainless steel, opening the doorway to industrial waste heat recovery applications and increasing its adoption in commercial aircraft.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, Boston Electrometallurgical Corporation could yield drastic improvements in the efficiency of titanium manufacturing, which could encourage greater use of low-cost, light-weight titanium in the transportation sector and help reduce GHG emissions.

Security: 

Replacing stainless steel heat exchangers with titanium could enable energy savings through greater deployment of waste heat recovery in corrosive environments. This savings could amount to several quads of energy, thus reducing U.S. dependence on foreign fossil fuel resources.

Environment: 

Producing titanium ingots in a less energy-intensive process could result in significant CO2 emissions reductions. Every quad of coal power displaced by heat recovery would result in 95 M ton CO2 avoided.

Economy: 

Reducing titanium production costs increases the economic viability of light weighting vehicles and aircraft, which could help improve vehicle fuel economy.

Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Scott Litzelman
Project Contact: 
Dr. Richard Bradshaw
Release Date: 
11/23/2015