FASTRAM project offers alternative to WC-Co hardmetals for mining sector

April 28, 2021

The FASTRAM partners have developed a process that reduces energy consumption by 20%, lowers manufacturing costs and improves environmental impact (Courtesy Tecnalia)

Powder Metallurgy parts maker AMES, headquartered in Barcelona, Spain, has collaborated with partners in the FASTRAM initiative, including Tecnalia in Spain, Finland’s VTT Technical Research Centre, Exote Ltd and Metso, in a project which aims to develop new, sustainable materials to replace existing hardmetals in the production of tools for use in mining applications. The resulting materials are said to reduce energy consumption by 20%, lower manufacturing costs and improve environmental impact.

Most mining tools are made of tungsten carbide cobalt hard metals (WC-Co), of which the main components are now classed as critical raw materials (CRMs) by the European Union, due to the difficulty of tungsten supply in Europe and the toxicity issues surrounding cobalt.

The FASTRAM project, financially supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (through EIT Raw Materials), a body of the European Union (Horizon 2020 Framework Programme), is replacing these critical raw materials with new compositions reported to offer a viable alternative to WC-Co. Mining tools have been developed and validated in which tungsten and cobalt are replaced, in whole or in part, with materials such as titanium carbide, nickel or iron.

FASTRAM used two advanced sintering technologies in the project: Electric Resistance Sintering (ERS) and Reactive Hot Pressing (RHP). In the conventional manufacture of mining tools, furnaces are used to heat the material for several hours. However, in these alternative processes, only the material to be manufactured is heated, significantly reducing both manufacturing time and energy consumption.

Pilot plant equipment has now been developed, with one pilot facility installed in Barcelona and the other in Finland. This equipment has been used to manufacture a series of tools that have been successfully tested by Metso.

The new technology may help reduce European dependence on critical materials. In addition, it increases the energy efficiency of processing and, therefore, manufacturing costs and environmental impact. Although the project has been developed at European level, it has an impact globally; the mining tools developed and validated by the project are used worldwide.

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