Rare earth clean and cheap?

The start-up Infinium wants to make CO2-intensive processes in the metal production of environmentally friendly.

In a laboratory building, which is opposite to a yoga studio in an office park in Natick, near Boston, Adam Powell keeps a shiny white ceramic tube high. The is the key to, to a lot of metals used significantly cheaper and produce ecological especially, he says.

Powell is chief technology officer of Infinium, a start-up, which is a spinoff of Boston University. The company has been working 2008 at its process and is now ready, with their first products to go to market - the rare earths neodymium and dysprosium, it will be. These substances are necessary, to build powerful magnets, including high temperatures can not harm. Insert among others in the generators of wind turbines and electric motors of cars.

The production process of Infinium also works for other metals, including magnesium and aluminum. Rare earth but are the first thing off, because they achieve a much higher price. The first customer will be the U.S. government, the material goes into the strategic reserve of the country. Rare earths to be produced only in a few regions of the world and high costs and environmental aspects of care previously for, that American companies can not produce at home these metals.

The Infinium technique solves a specific problem of production: The conversion of pre-processed ores, there Metalloxide, the actual metal. This can be done by immersion in a bath of melting salts, which is then energized. In addition to the emissions, resulting from the energy, is the process itself greenhouse gases from. One of the electrodes is usually made of carbon, reacts with oxygen, was CO2 bildet.

The ceramic material, Powell presents the, consists of zirconium oxide. It replaces the carbon electrodes, thus preventing emissions. Researchers have been working long and hard, To replace carbon at this point, but the melting salts corroded all alternatives. The main progress of Infinium now is, that in addition to the electrodes of zirconium oxide also improved melting salts have been developed, which hardly react with.

In June Infinium first began with the production of a machine, which can produce a half ton metals from the category of the rare earths in. In September, a second machine is then connected to the grid, the 10 Packs tons - enough, to get into profit, wie Powell sagt. The company has also been shown, that the process for aluminum, Magnesium, Titanium and silicon works. The production of the first two metals is to 2016 be ramped.

The technology is not a panacea for environmental problems in metal production. The destruction of the environment, which takes place in the reduction of ores, will also not be prevented as the filth, created during the separation of the oxides of the rare earth of other substances.

However, for aluminum or magnesium to the processing costs 30 to 50 Shrink percent. The significantly lower production of these metals could revolutionize about the vehicle manufacturing. They are lighter than the steel used so far mainly and just as strong. Weight savings would fuel consumption by 10 Percent lower, believes an industry consortium.

When you now start taking place production needs to be clarified, especially, whether the ceramic electrode really hold out as long, suggest as the previous tests on a small scale. When the ceramic material is not permanently stable, there is a low cost advantage.

“Finding an alternative to carbon electrodes applicable in the metal industry has long been a dream”, sagt Donald Sadoway, Professor of materials science at MIT, knows the Infiniums work. “I think, the technique is solid, sie ist real.” Whether the planned economy is achieved, but remains to be seen. “No one is interested in a flow chart of such a process. The people are interested in the price. If good metal at low cost comes out, the interest is there.” (Kevin Bullis) / (bsc)

Those: http://www.heise.de/tr/artikel/Seltene-Erden-sauber-und-billig-2249980.html

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