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MEI Online: Electrometallurgy: Latest News: April 22nd 2003

:: Darpa Funding for Ti Process  

Titanium Metals Corp. (Timet), the world's largest supplier of titanium metal products, has been chosen by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) to lead a project to commercialise the FFC Cambridge Process for the electrolytic production of titanium sponge. The process was developed at the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, University of Cambridge, by Professor Derek Fray, Dr George Chen and Dr Tom Farthing. The process uses readily available titanium dioxide as a feedstock to produce a cathode, which is placed in the electrolytic cell and stripped of its oxygen leaving behind titanium sponge.

Scientists from Timet, General Electric Aircraft Engines, United Defense Ltd Partners, Pratt & Whitney, the University of Berkeley and the University of Cambridge are working on the project. Timet has negotiated a development and production licence for the process from British Titanium plc, the company that was formed to commercialise the process. Darpa will provide US$12.5 million in funding for the research over the next four years.

According to Landis Martin, Timet's chief executive, "while there is a great deal of work to he done and success is by no means a certainty, we see this as a very significant opportunity, working with some of the leading minds in titanium metallurgy, to achieve a truly meaningful reduction in the cost of producing titanium metal". "If successful, we believe this would not only make titanium a more attractive material choice within the aerospace industry, but also open the doors to many new opportunities to use titanium in other non-aerospace applications where its cost might have been an obstacle."

By using other refractory and rare-metal oxides or mixtures of oxide to produce a cathode, the process can be used to produce a range of other metals including chromium, niobium, zircon, tungsten and cerium, plus alloys and intermetallic oxides, some of which cannot be produced using other techniques. The University of Cambridge and its Challenge fund have formed FFC Metals Ltd to develop the process for the extraction of non-titanium metals.



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