A new process, being developed by SRI International, takes fewer steps, uses less energy, and produces titanium powder, rather than ingots. The powder can be pressed and fused into something that’s very close to the shape of the final product, which reduces the amount of machining required.
SRI’s process uses plasma arcs to facilitate reactions between molecules of hydrogen and titanium chloride, a chemical produced from titanium ore. “Arcs, like lightning bolts, crack the hydrogen, producing atomic hydrogen that can readily react,” says Barbara Heydorn, senior director of the Energy Center at SRI. The reactions produce titanium vapor that quickly solidifies and forms titanium powder.
SRI’s new approach to titanium or titanium alloy production uses a proprietary multi-arc fluidized bed reactor (MAFBR) that will either convert titanium tetrachloride to titanium powder or convert multiple metal chlorides to titanium alloy powder in a single step. The process will enable production of alloys that cannot be produced with conventional technology, at a cost similar to stainless steel.
Funding was from ARPA-E’s Modern Electro/Thermochemical Advances in Light Metals Systems (METALS) program.
SRI is solving that problem by developing a multi-arc fluidized bed reactor (MAFBR) that will be able to either convert titanium tetrachloride to titanium powder or convert multiple metal chlorides to titanium alloy powder in a single step. The process will enable production of alloys that cannot be produced with conventional technology, at a cost similar to stainless steel.
Operating 4-inch multi-arc fluidized bed reactor
(H/T to NBF commenter Mindbreaker for calling this out in the forum)
SRI has so far demonstrated a small-scale version of the process for producing pure titanium. It’s currently working on a two-stage process to improve yields and lower costs before attempting to scale it up
SOURCES- Technology Review, SRI, ARPA-E
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