Everything old is green again. Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder (U.S.) have developed a new version of a World War II-era process for making magnesium that requires half the energy and produces a fraction of the pollution compared to today’s leading production methods.
The new process involves combining cheaper and abundant carbon (instead of the more commonly used and expensive silicon) with magnesium ore and heating the mix to around 1200 degrees Celsius to extract magnesium continuously rather than in small batches, eliminating the solid waste that’s usually formed along the way.
The technology, the research for which received a $3.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, could have global economic implications. A University spinoff company called Big Blue Technologies is working to translate the scientists’ lab breakthrough into a commercial enterprise. Big Blue’s founders believe the technology could eventually favor the United States in the area of metal smelting, which has increasingly moved overseas (mostly to China) to reduce costs. Until the late 1990s, the U.S. was a major world supplier of magnesium, but today, only a single domestic producer remains, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Big Blue has formed a partnership with publicly traded Nevada Clean Magnesium to develop, test and improve the production method further. BBT says it’s secured almost a half-million dollars from backers thus far, including a $225,000 seed grant from the National Science Foundation's Small Business Technology Transfer program.
“In our economic projections, if you built a plant in the U.S., with current energy prices and fair, first-world labor wages and benefits, we could still produce magnesium cheaper than Chinese product,” said Aaron Palumbo, recent PhD graduate and a university research team member. “The U.S. can only begin to bring back manufacturing jobs if there is abundant access to cheap raw materials and if we continue to lead in innovative developments for process technology.”
Copyright notice: Reproduction of material without written permission is strictly prohibited.