In a move that could help reinvigorate the metal production industry in Australia, CSIRO and Enirgi Group have joined forces to develop and commercialise an affordable and low-emission technology for producing magnesium metal.
[Music plays and title appears: MagSonic Magnesium production at the speed of sound]
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Narrator: CSIROs MagSonic technology is likely to produce magnesium almost twice as efficiently as today’s conventional process.
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It could also reduce greenhouse gas emissions from production by 50 – 85 per cent depending on the electricity source.
[Title appears: What happens in the MagSonic process?
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Pressed briquettes of magnesium oxide and carbon are reacted under an inert atmosphere. As briquettes are loaded in they are heated to above 170,000 degree Celsius. At these temperatures magnesium oxide reacts with the carbon to produce magnesium vapour and carbon monoxide gas. The chemistry is also called carbothermal reduction.
[Gases can been seen rising from the pile of briquettes]
The hot gases containing metallic magnesium at a temperature above its boiling point are drawn to the supersonic nozzle.
[A thick cloud of gas has risen to the top of the briquettes and magnesium cells appear]
Here the gases are cooled extremely quickly to prevent the reoxidation of the magnesium. The process cools the gases in around 55-milliseconds.
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The magnesium condenses, much like the steam from a kettle forming droplets of metal. At this point the droplets, still moving faster than the speed of sound, continue to cool, travelling through a series of sonic shocks as they slow down.
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They soon freeze into metal powder particles. The powder particles travel into a large chamber which keeps them time to completely cool and solidify. From this chamber the mixture of powder and cooled gas is drawn towards a cyclone.
[Image changes to show the particles being swirled and the gas and particles being separated as they travel down the spiral]
Here a swirling motion separates the powder, which travels downward in a spiral, while the gases are removed. The cool, solid magnesium powder is collected at the bottom of this cyclone. Magnesium powder is very reactive and must be kept away from any oxygen sources. Magnesium is then purified and cast into slabs.
[Computer generated image appears of a sphere made up of tiny particles which are moving around quickly]
Cleaner and cheaper availability of this lightweight metal will have flow on effects such as lighter more fuel efficient vehicles. CSIRO continues to work with partners to accelerate the technology and bring it to market.
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The CSIRO-developed technology, known as MagSonic, produces magnesium using up to 80 percent less energy and up to 60 per cent less carbon dioxide emissions thanks to a supersonic nozzle.
Magnesium is the lightest of all metals and is in rising demand from car manufacturers who are turning to the metal as a solution for making lightweight, low-emission vehicles.
CSIRO and Enirgi Group’s Innovation Division will work together to further develop and validate the MagSonic technology.
Once the technology is proven ready for commercialisation, Enirgi Group has the option to take up an exclusive global license that would see the company initially build a commercial-scale magnesium production facility in Australia.
Dr Mark Cooksey, who leads CSIRO’s sustainable process engineering group, said commercialisation of MagSonic would help take advantage of Australia’s abundant reserves of magnesite ore that remain largely untapped.
“The growth of magnesium use has been limited because it’s been too expensive and labour-intensive to produce the metal from ore using traditional processes,” Dr Cooksey said.
“Our MagSonic technology offers an economically-viable solution to overcome these issues and make clean magnesium more available and affordable to manufacturers.
“We’re delighted to be working with Enirgi Group as our technology and commercial partners, with their experience in developing new processes to disrupt and change industry dynamics.”
MagSonic uses carbothermal reduction and a supersonic nozzle to efficiently produce high quality magnesium.
It involves heating magnesia with carbon to extreme temperatures to produce magnesium vapour and carbon monoxide.
The vapour and carbon monoxide are passed through a supersonic nozzle – similar to a rocket engine – at four times the speed of sound to cool the gases in milliseconds, condensing and solidifying the magnesium vapour to magnesium metal.
"We are pleased to be working with CSIRO on this exciting opportunity to bring reliable supply of magnesium metal to the global market in an environmentally sustainable way,” Enirgi Group’s Vice President of Corporate Development, Anthony Deal said.
“We are confident that this process is capable of commercial production.
“The flow-through benefits to emerging industries like electric vehicle manufacturing are enormous, not to mention a substantial reduction in carbon emissions when compared to current magnesium production processes,” he said.
In recent years, CSIRO has been developing new sustainable technologies to help the Australian metal production industry compete in an increasingly environmentally-conscious and globalised world.
MagSonic compliments a suite of CSIRO-developed magnesium technologies, including T-mag, twin roll strip casting and high pressure die casting.
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