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A New, Energy-Efficient Chemical Pathway for Extracting Ti Metal from Ti Minerals

Titanium is the ninth most abundant element, fourth among common metals, in the Earth's crust. Apart from some high-value applications in, e.g., the aerospace, biomedicine, and defense industries, the use of titanium in industrial or civilian applications has been extremely limited because of its high embodied energy and high cost. However, employing titanium would significantly reduce energy consumption of mechanical systems such as civilian transportation vehicles, which would have a profound impact on the sustainability of a global economy and the society of the future. The root cause of the high cost of titanium is its very strong affinity for oxygen. Conventional methods for Ti extraction involve several energy-intensive processes, including upgrading ilmenite ore to Ti-slag and then to synthetic rutile, high-temperature carbo-chlorination to produce TiCl4, and batch reduction of TiCl4 using Mg or Na (Kroll or Hunter process). This Communication describes a novel chemical pathway for extracting titanium metal from the upgraded titanium minerals (Ti-slag) with 60% less energy consumption than conventional methods. The new method involves direct reduction of Ti-slag using magnesium hydride, forming titanium hydride, which is subsequently purified by a series of chemical leaching steps. By directly reducing Ti-slag in the first step, Ti is chemically separated from impurities without using high-temperature processes.
Zhigang Zak Fang , Scott Middlemas , Jun Guo , and Peng Fan
Metallurgical Engineering, University of Utah,
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