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NETL Partnership Seeks To Reduce Cost of Producing Ultralow Oxygen Reactive Metal Powders
Ultralow oxygen metal powders.

Researchers from NETL, Blacksand Technologies LLC and the University of Utah are collaborating on a project to develop improved and low-cost manufacturing of ultralow oxygen reactive metal powders, which are used to create alloys needed for harsh energy-related environments.

The effort was one of 13 industry partnerships funded through the Department of Energy's (DOE) High Performance Computing for Energy Innovation (HPC4EI) initiative. DOE announced over $5 million in new funding for the industry partnerships March 11.

The HPC4EI program was created to advance performance, efficiency, and vitality of the U.S. manufacturing sector and drive economy-wide decarbonization. The short-term, collaborative projects between industry members and DOE’s national labs will apply advanced modeling, simulation, and data analysis to projects that improve manufacturing efficiency and explore new materials for clean energy applications.

NETL’s Michael Gao explained that the new project will focus on developing low cost manufacturing processes to produce ultralow-oxygen reactive metal powers of titanium, zirconium, and niobium using magnesium and calcium as reduction agents.

Reducing oxygen in metal alloys is important to the manufacturing process because high oxygen content makes metals and alloys brittle, causing significantly reduced tensile ductility — the amount of tensile elongation a material can take before failure — and fracture toughness — the resistance to crack propagation of materials under applied stress.

Gao said that the energy industry requires refractory metals, a class of metals that are extraordinarily resistant to heat and wear and have extremely high melting points.

“Reactive refractory metals have a strong chemical anity to oxygen, making it very challenging to produce high-purity metal powders of these elements with extremely low oxygen content,” he said. “This project integrates multiscale modeling and experimental validation to provide fundamental understanding of the thermodynamic limits on the deoxygenation process.”

The collaboration will significantly expedite the optimization of deoxygenation processes, reducing the timeline for refining deoxygenation techniques for titanium, zirconium, and niobium metals by about 0.5-2 years. This accelerated timeline translates to substantial cost savings estimated at $3 million in research and development expenditures.

Blacksand Technology of Salt Lake City, Utah, is a leader in the development of low-cost processes for making titanium alloy powders and is the worldwide exclusive licensee from the University of Utah for proprietary & patented technologies to produce low-cost powders for use with additive manufacturing.

The University of Utah has a long history of examining materials produced using innovative technologies and leveraging innovative technologies to create existing and new products. 

NETL is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory that drives innovation and delivers technological solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future. By using its world-class talent and research facilities, NETL is ensuring affordable, abundant and reliable energy that drives a robust economy and national security, while developing technologies to manage carbon across the full life cycle, enabling environmental sustainability for all Americans.