Altair Nanomaterials, Titanium Metals, Develop Low Cost Titanium Production

Altair Nanotechnologies, Inc. announced recently that its subsidiary, Altair Nanomaterials Inc. has entered into a contract with Titanium Metals Corporation for development of a low cost manufacturing process for titanium dioxide pellets, critical to the successful commercialization of the FCC Cambridge process for production of titanium metal.

The contract will be funded under Titanium Metals Corporation’s primary U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contract. Altair will receive $150,000 during the initial six months phase of the agreement. Several follow-on phases should proceed concurrently and sequentially.

As previously announced, Titanium Metals Corporation has been selected by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to lead a program for developing an innovative new titanium electrolysis technology originated at Cambridge University and now referred to as the FFC Cambridge Process.

The process uses titanium dioxide (TiO2) feedstock. Approximately 1.67 pounds of titanium dioxide feedstock are required to make one pound of titanium metal.

DARPA awarded Titanium Metals Corporation $12.3 million for a four-year development program.

Titanium Metals Corporation leads a team of researchers from major defense contractors, including General Electric Aircraft Engines, United Defense Limited Partners and Pratt & Whitney, as well as the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Cambridge, in this development program.

The FFC Cambridge Process has the potential to significantly reduce the cost of titanium metal and dramatically expand its use in a wider range of applications that include lightweight armored military vehicles, the manufacture of automotive components and components for utility plants, oil and gas drilling, and lightweight and durable consumer goods.

The agreement between Titanium Metals Corporation and Altair Nanomaterials follows the completion of a development program in which Altair provided Titanium Metals Corporation with samples of customized titanium dioxide cathodes under a July 30, 2003 Memorandum of Understanding.

Under the terms of the agreement, Altair will provide low-cost TiO2 to make customized electrodes for the Titanium Metals Corporation project.

Altair believes its ability to control TiO2 particle size, shape and crystalline structure, using its patented process to make TiO2 pigment and nanoparticles, could have a significant benefit to the program.

Altair’s new proprietary technology enables production of optimized porosity and custom shaped electrode precursors from either commercial titanium tetrachloride (TiCl4) or from titanium ore digestion solutions, and is described in Altair’s pigment patent, US Patent 6,375,923. “We are excited to be participating in this next-generation technology and are pleased to be working with one of the world’s largest titanium metal producers and aerospace and military industry leaders”, says Altair’s president Dr. Rudi Moerck.

Titanium is the 10th most abundant element in the earth’s crust and the 4th most abundant structural metal.

Titanium metal has unique physical and chemical properties including high strength-to-weight ratio, good corrosion resistance and excellent ballistic armor protection while offering appreciable weight reduction over conventional steel and aluminum alloys. It is as strong as steel, but 45 percent lighter. It is 60 percent heavier than aluminum, but twice as strong. Titanium is expensive only because the current process for refining the ore to metal is a multi-step, high temperature batch process.

According to the AMPTIAC Quarterly, a Department of Defense-sponsored publication, current global production of titanium metal is approximately 50,000 tons per year at a market value of $600 million.

AMPTIAC estimates that, due to the current state of manufacturing, titanium is produced at only about 1/20th of its current potential world volume. It is widely believed that a reduction of cost in the manufacturing process will expand the use of titanium metal in a wider range of applications that include lightweight armored military vehicles, the manufacture of automotive components and components for utility plants, oil and gas drilling, and lightweight and durable consumer goods.

Posted 17th January

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