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MEI Online: Pyrometallurgy: Latest News: August 19th 2003

:: Boston University Research Breakthrough Puts TAA on the World Stage of Metal Refining Technology  

TAA has been advised by Boston University (BU) that it has been successful in extracting tantalum metal directly from tantalum concentrate utilising the solid oxygen-ion-conducting membrane (SOM) process. While this technology is significant with respect to tantalum, TAA also has the licensing rights to other metals including nickel and niobium.

BU has completed laboratory runs using the SOM apparatus to achieve the successful metal extraction from tantalum concentrates after having previous success with refined tantalum oxide as a feedstock. The feedstock for the current test work was concentrate supplied by TAA containing 60% tantalum pentoxide, 6% niobium pentoxide, significant iron and manganese oxides and lesser amounts of silicon and aluminium. The results to date confirm initial deposition of an iron-manganese-aluminiumsilicon (Fe-Mn-Al-Si) alloy followed by deposition of tantalum and niobium metal.

The initial Fe-Mn-Al-Si alloy deposit can be removed from the melt separately and provides a useful by product that can potentially be utilised as an additive in specialty steel production. The second stage deposition of tantalum and niobium metal provides a product suitable for alloy manufacturers as most if not all specialty alloys that contain tantalum contain larger amounts of niobium. The yield from the process is greater than 90% and +95% yields may be achievable with further test work, this compares with yields of 85-90% with existing conventional processes. The process is also environmentally friendly as it eliminates many of the traditional refining processes that have become environmentally challenged in recent years.

In summary the main successes have been:

  • Production of tantalum and niobium metal from concentrate feedstock
  • Process yield of greater than 90%
  • Production of a potentially saleable Fe-Mn-Al-Si alloy by product that leaves a clean flux prior to deposition of tantalum and niobium
  • No degradation of the SOM membrane in the reactor

Final analysis (including electron microprobe analysis) of the tantalum and niobium metal is awaited. The results are expected by early September to confirm yield rates and determine what, if any, further process improvements are required. The results will be used to finalise the Stage II R&D program plan which is expected to begin by October or November.

The production of tantalum metal directly from a concentrate has the capability of significantly reducing the capital and operating cost of producing tantalum metal. The Company believes the saving could be in the order of 30% on capital cost and operating costs. BU will prepare a paper on this aspect of the technology during Stage II of the R&D programme.

The Company believes that its downstream metal production strategy will become a realistic option in the future and vindicates its stated objectives in the tantalum and other rare metal industries.

TAA and BU will continue to develop the SOM process with respect to tantalum, niobium, yttrium, gallium, thallium, germanium, tungsten and nickel. The breakthrough of the SOM process with respect to tantalum will be applied to nickel and will be the objective of the funded research within the next 12 months. TAA is conducting discussions with potential sponsors and investors with respect to the future funding of this significant R&D program.




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