|November 2005||National Research Flagship||www.lightmetals.csiro.au|
TiRO™: Titanium powder for making metal
Walk into Dr Grant Wellwood’s office, and the first thing that catches your eye are the titanium spectacle frames and other objects designed to get you playing with the metal and its possibilities.
For Wellwood, titanium is no ordinary metal – it’s the material of the future, with the potential to enable new products we have yet to imagine.
Wellwood is leading an LMF research project to develop a new titanium production process known as TiRO™, which is proving cleaner and cheaper than the current 57-year-old Kroll batch process.
Fluid-bed concept proved
Wellwood’s team has demonstrated the TiRO fluid-bed process to the ‘proof-of-concept’ stage using a laboratory-scale rig, producing titanium powder at the rate of 200g/h.
Now, the team is looking for commercial support to build a bigger facility with an output of 2kg/h that will enable researchers and engineers to optimise process control, design and construction and scaling up of the facility.
The larger quantities from a bigger facility would also benefit research into titanium forming and fabrication.
Because titanium is corrosion-resistant and as strong as steel but only 60% of the weight, it is an important material in the aerospace industry. The cost of the prevailing Kroll process, however, has put titanium out of reach of more cost-sensitive industries.
Cutting the cost of production
The continuous TiRO process for making titanium, based on the reduction of TiCl4 (derived from mineral sands), is a key element in the LMF strategy of halving the cost of producing the metal.
The end-product is titanium powder, which can be fed directly into existing liquid titanium processes or consolidated into titanium sheet, reducing the need for remelt.
Currently, the TiCl4 produced in Australia is used in pigment/paint production. Establishing a titanium metal industry here would enable the nation to realise the full potential of its abundant natural mineral sands resource.
In the Kroll process, titanium builds up as a spongy deposit inside a retort maintained at high temperature. The process is conducted in batches, with a cycle time of around two weeks.
The higher cost associated with batch operation is compounded by the need to remove the brittle sponge from the retort wall and grade the lumps of sponge recovered.
The TiRO process eliminates these steps because the titanium is produced continuously and as a powder rather than sponge.
“While the TiRO process uses Kroll chemistry, the breakthrough was finding an operating ‘window’ that enables the process to be conducted in a fluid bed,” Wellwood said.
“Although other titanium metal production pathways being developed, we are encouraged by the robustness and capital and operating projections for the fluid-bed approach.
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The Light Metals Flagship is a CSIRO initiative and part of the National Research Flagships program that aims to deliver scientific solutions to advance Australia's most important national objectives. One of the largest scientific initiatives ever mounted in Australia, it aligns closely with the Federal Government's National Research Priorities. The initiative brings together our national research resources to deliver breakthroughs in fields ranging from healthcare to light metals and the environment.
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