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MEI Online: Electrometallurgy: Latest News: December 12th 2003

:: TAA Secures Global Rights for Titanium and Magnesium Metal Processing Technology  

Tantalum Australia NL has laid the foundations for a future major expansion of its rare metals business, by today acquiring the worldwide exclusive rights to the solid oxygen-ion-conducting membranes processing technology (“SOM”) for titanium and magnesium metal production.

The Perth-based Company has reached agreement with Boston University to acquire an option over the world rights to the process for titanium and magnesium. The total annual global market for both these metals exceeds US$1.6 billion pa. (Titanium US $550 million pa and Magnesium US$1.1 billion pa) This adds to the existing SOM rights held by TAA to Tantalum, niobium, nickel, tungsten and four other rare metals.

This novel process, developed initially at MIT, uses SOM to directly extract (synthesize) the metal from oxide and/or concentrate form.

In work done to date on tantalum, it has achieved yields of up to 100% compared with yields of just 70% in the existing tantalum refinery process. TAA and Boston University expect that significant capital and operating cost savings can be achieved compared to existing plants. Due to the outstanding success of the R&D in Phase I for tantalum and the potential to apply the Intellectual Property (IP) developed in that R&D across other metals, TAA has acquired an option over the rights to titanium and magnesium. TAA will be able to exploit synergies and cost savings in undertaking R&D across the suite of metals it controls. The SOM process has already been proven in a Phase I R&D program by Boston University in synthesizing magnesium metal from magnesium oxide and tantalum metal from both tantalum oxide and concentrates.

Importantly given the success in the tantalum R&D program of synthesizing metal from concentrates, the Titanium and Magnesium R&D will use oxides however it will focus on using concentrates (titanium) and calcined dolomite (magnesium) as feedstock.

TAA has been encouraged to secure the option over the rights to these metals by a major user of these metals. Discussions are proceeding with this interested party on the possibility of developing a strategic relationship. The existing processing technologies particularly for titanium are over 40 years old and a new green, energy and cost efficient process would have a major competitive advantage over these out dated processes.

TAA and Boston University have developed the next Phase of the R&D program for Tantalum, Titanium and Magnesium that is planned to commence in early 2004. Success in these programs could lead to the establishment of a semi-commercial pilot facility in Western Australia within three years. As part of the next Phase of R&D the cost advantages will be more closely defined.

The SOM process has been developed by Professor Uday Pal and colleagues at the Boston University’s Department of Manufacturing Engineering in the United States. Professor Pal will lead the TAA R&D Program.

The Option fee is US$35,000 payable on execution of the Option Agreement. If the planned next Phase of the R&D is successful, this could lead to the addition of these metals to the existing License Agreement TAA has with Boston University to achieve full commercialisation of the technology.

Acquisition of the global rights to Titanium and Magnesium will expand TAA’s opportunity to be producing not only low-cost tantalum metal but also titanium and magnesium within 3-5 years.

Boston University, the USA’s 4th largest independent university, is internationally recognized as one of the world’s premier research universities, and has hundreds of millions of dollars pa in research grants.



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