Friday, September 22, 2023

Considerations when working with titanium

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Shreya Christina
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Anastasios “Taso” Arima, founder and CEO of IperionX.

While progress is often gradual and incremental, sometimes it is both rapid and transformative. More than 250 years ago a new method was developed to produce an expensive and niche material – steel. That breakthrough reduced the cost of producing steel by orders of magnitude, enabling widespread application like never before. Today, the global annual crude steel production is more than 1.9 billion tons, and it is one of the world’s most important materials. Steel is used in everything from the buildings we live and work in to our kitchen appliances.

Still, I believe titanium is a superior metal to steel and other commonly used metals. The U.S. is one of the world’s largest consumers of high-grade titanium, but has no domestic supply left production capacity for upstream raw materials needed to make titanium products. I have long developed successful, profitable energy and resource projects in the US and I founded IperionX, recognizing that there are critical mineral and metals supply chains that are fragile and need to be re-supported. I think titanium could be our future.

Titanium is light, strong and corrosion resistant.

Titanium has a high strength-to-weight ratio. It is 45% lighter than steel and twice as strong as aluminum. It is extremely corrosion resistant, resistant to extreme temperatures and highly resistant to chemicals. This makes it a great candidate for advanced applications, including aerospace and defense.

Historically, titanium was expensive and energy and carbon intensive to produce. The primary raw material for titanium products is titanium sponge. The current titanium sponge making process is the Kroll process. Developed in 1940the Kroll process uses carbon and chlorine to convert titanium dioxide to titanium tetrachloride, which is then reduced by molten magnesium and numerous melting steps to create a titanium sponge. It is a lengthy, labor-intensive process that is expensive, energy-intensive and generates significant amounts of carbon emissions.

There are materials that can be produced both cost-effectively and sustainably.

Industrial facilities using the Kroll process can be difficult to commission, operate and maintain. Companies like mine and others are trying to address this through new technology. For example, our technology uses hydrogen to destabilize the titanium-oxygen bonds. Unlike the Kroll process, this process uses half the energy, reduces emissions and has the potential to significantly reduce titanium production costs.

However, titanium is not the only metal that focuses on decarburization. In recent news, the steel industry has emphasized various ways to become carbon neutral or “green steelCurrently, steel is made from iron ore with coke in a blast furnace at extremely high temperatures, but with green steel hydrogen made from renewable energy and water replaces the traditional fossil fuels used.

Low-cost, low-carbon titanium is a potential game changer for many advanced US industries.

The US has no domestic production capacity for titanium raw materials and recent events have highlighted the threat to the security of the country’s supply chain. The development of low-cost, low-carbon domestic production of titanium could help US industry secure the supply chain for our critical industries.

How can companies get started with titanium?

As you look at your business, ask yourself: Is this the most cost-effective and sustainable way I can manufacture my product? Take the time to re-evaluate your current processes to see if certain top titanium properties are essential for your products.

To start working with titanium, it is important to understand its benefits and how you can use them to turn production into a positive economic outcome. For example, titanium’s longevity, strength and lightness make it a great metal for lightweight electric vehicles and improving battery efficiency. Another consideration is the need for corrosion protection, in which case titanium may be suitable for the job of ensuring product longevity.

As business leaders, we face so many challenges as we take steps to increase profits and reduce emissions. Looking ahead, our job is to look for better alternatives, and sometimes we need to stop doing things the way they’ve always been done and invest in innovative methods that expand supply networks and speed up production.

What are some of the challenges of working with titanium?

Currently, titanium production can be expensive and harmful to the environment due to waste production. The process is complicated and uses harsh chemicals. Industrial plants using this process are difficult to commission, operate and maintain. It is also a hard metal. Most components made from titanium are made through subtractive fabrication, which means there can be a lot of waste when manufacturing a component.

If we want a better world in these advanced industries, I think we need to support the supply chain in a better way and develop better mineral extraction processes. Before diving into not just the titanium industry, but any other mineral industry, consider investing in technology to reduce costs and waste and how you can apply it in your business. As you try to reinvent your business with titanium, it is important to provide everyone with the right resources, training and tools to effectively deal with the additional challenges they face, to ensure the right decisions are made .

Transforming an industry takes a lot of work and time. We can get started by bringing leaders and teams together with the right vision and a holistic approach. We have a historical predilection for this level of innovation, partly due to the rise of the steel industry. I believe it is time for a more durable and cost effective material to take the stage. Titanium has the qualifications and superior properties to make it “the steel of the 21st century”. Let’s make it happen. Business Council is the premier growth and networking organization for entrepreneurs and leaders. Am I eligible?


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