Process promises to lower the cost of titanium by 60 per cent

Engineers in the US believe they can lower the cost of titanium through a low-cost, energy-efficient process that uses electrowinning to produce the metal.

The idea from Case Western Reserve University has been selected by the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) for contract negotiations.

The one-year project will be funded by ARPA-E at about $675,000 through the program on Modern Electro/Thermo-chemical Advances in Light-metal Systems.

Titanium is critically important for applications in aerospace, transportation and defence but the current process used to refine it from ore is energy-intensive, which adds to the cost of the metal.

‘Our project, if successful, will lower the cost of titanium by up to 60 percent,’ said Rohan Akolkar, associate professor of chemical engineering and the principal investigator on the project.

The Case Western Reserve team proposes to use an electrolytic process – electrowinning – to directly extract titanium from molten titanium salts. A specialised electrochemical reactor will be designed and built at CWRU to facilitate a stable electrowinning process.

‘Much of the cost associated with extracting titanium via conventional non-electrolytic routes lies in processing the sacrificial reducing agent, which is typically magnesium. In our direct electrolytic process, magnesium is not required,’ Akolkar said in a statement. ‘This reduces cost, reduces energy consumption and simplifies the overall process.’

The electrolytically extracted titanium is expected to contain fewer impurities and therefore have superior mechanical properties as extracted.