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Science Technology

New Technology Produces Cheaper Tantalum and Titanium 139

Billy the Mountain writes "A small UK company is bringing new technology online that could reduce the prices of tantalum and titanium ten-fold. According to this piece in The Economist: A tantalising prospect, the key is a technique similar to smelting aluminum with a new twist: The metallic oxides are not melted as with aluminum but blended in powder form with a molten salt that serves as a medium and electrolyte. This technology is known as the FFC Cambridge Process. Other metals include Neodymium, Tungsten, and Vanadium."
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New Technology Produces Cheaper Tantalum and Titanium

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  • by Freestyling ( 997523 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @06:52AM (#43012729)

    Seriously, do the people posting these stories ever read TFA?

    "The metallic oxides are not *melted as with aluminum* but blended in powder form with a molten salt that serves as a medium and electrolyte."

    Wrong! The Hall-Héroult process (main Al production method) is exactly that! Dissolving alumina in molten cryolite to allow electrolysis without heating to alumina's melting point.

    So actually the apparent amazing breakthrough turns out to be, "oh hey, they found a new solvent to dissolve things in".

    Accurate facts please guys, leave the sensationalising by omission to the tabloids.

  • by jbeaupre ( 752124 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @08:58AM (#43013145)

    I've only used it for prototypes, but nothing aerospace. Which means either very expensive custom tooling for die casting or machining. And it won't quite machine like metal. Grinding works, but that's slow for complex shapes.

    It's not impossible to work with, just weird. Vibrates and makes the strangest sounds while machining.

    Now that I think about it, boralyn was worse. Tore up machine tools and gummed up grinding tools. You can cast, forge, and weld the stuff. But none of the parts I work with are amenable to those processes.

  • by Troyusrex ( 2446430 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @09:32AM (#43013347)
    I happen to live close to the largest Tantalum processor in the world and so I've been following tantalum movements for a long time. The main constraint on Tantalum as it is isn't processing cost but supply of the mineral.

    At CURRENT extraction rates there's less than a 50 year supply so making the processing cheaper will just make it run out faster.It's possible some new sources will be found, but no apparent ones are on the horizon.

  • by morethanapapercert ( 749527 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @10:06AM (#43013585) Homepage
    I once posted elsewhere about what *I* think would be great subjects for, behind the scenes at the computer room of a major observatory for example. I think getting a video tour of your shop might be equally fascinating. Exotic boron and/or titantium alloys and it's not an aerospace application? I'm guessing racing bicycles or Formula 1 fabrication work. Either way, I'd love to see an interview where you discuss what it's like working with these unusual materials.
  • by slinches ( 1540051 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2013 @12:14PM (#43014995)

    Titanium is a very good material, but it isn't perfect. The fatigue capability is relatively low for its strength, especially in cast form. Strength at temperature is good, but far short of nickel based superalloys that are similar in cost. Low ductility and elastic modulus means it isn't easily formable and makes machining more difficult. It has limited resistance to wear due to lower hardenability. Oh, and it can catch on fire under the right conditions.

    Although, for many aerospace applications there's no substitute at almost any cost. It allows the weight of parts, that would otherwise need to be made of steel or nickel alloys, to be cut nearly in half (and that adds up quickly since it applies to a large portion of the main structural components in things like jet engines).

    If the price does drop drastically, I'd expect to start seeing Ti show up a lot more in areas like the automotive industry, where weight is important but it's use had been limited by cost.

If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by spectacular error. -- John Kenneth Galbraith