Zak Fang wins Humboldt Award for titanium powder development

June 16, 2023

Zak Fang has been awarded the Humboldt Research Award for his work developing the Hydrogen Assisted Metallothermic Reduction process (Courtesy The University of Utah)
Zak Fang has been awarded the Humboldt Research Award for his work developing the Hydrogen Assisted Metallothermic Reduction process (Courtesy The University of Utah)

Zhigang Zak Fang, Materials Sciences and Metallurgical Engineering Professor, University of Utah, USA, has been awarded the Humboldt Research Award for his work developing the Hydrogen Assisted Metallothermic Reduction (HAMR) process. This technology can produce high-quality, low-carbon emitting titanium powder at a reduced cost.

The HAMR process is based on recent developments about the effects of hydrogen on the stability of Ti solid solutions with high oxygen content (up to 14wt%.) Fang discovered that the bond between titanium and oxygen can be destabilised by inserting hydrogen atoms into the Titanium(II) oxide (Ti-O) solid solution lattices, leading to the completely new approach for sustainably producing low oxygen titanium with minimum energy and cost.

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“Titanium metal is difficult to produce because of its strong affinity to oxygen,” stated Fang. “By dramatically reducing the cost and carbon dioxide emissions of producing titanium powder, the HAMR process has the potential to fundamentally disrupt and transform the global titanium metal industry.”

Today, the US imports almost 100% of the titanium sponge it consumes each year. These imports are both produced inefficiently and often sourced from areas that face some levels of geopolitical instability, thus threatening supply chains. The current market-standard process for creating titanium metal heats titanium ore to 982° Celsius and reacts with chlorine gas and petroleum coke to produce titanium tetrachloride. This is then purified, reduced by molten magnesium in an argon atmosphere for up to four days, and vacuum-distilled into the porous, brittle form of titanium known as sponge. Finally, it is crushed and melted to make ingots and other titanium mill deliverables that are sent to the manufacturers of titanium products.

Zak Fang (right) and Pei Sun, research associate in the Powder Metallurgy Research Lab (left) describe the process to reduce commercial titanium dioxide into the final pure titanium powder (Courtesy The University of Utah)
Zak Fang (right) and Pei Sun, research associate in the Powder Metallurgy Research Lab (left) describe the process to reduce commercial titanium dioxide into the final pure titanium powder (Courtesy The University of Utah)

Fang’s research, which led to the HAMR technology, is expected to improve energy efficiency drastically. The HAMR process can produce primary titanium metal from either minerals or from titanium scrap. Recycling titanium scrap is an endeavour that IperionX is also currently undertaking. Producing low-oxygen spherical titanium powder from scrap is accomplished by utilising HAMR in combination with a patented Granulation, Sintering, and Deoxygenation (GSD) process. The result is that high-oxygen titanium scrap is transformed into low-oxygen titanium powders that meet or exceed stringent aerospace and biomedical industry standards.

Titanium powder can be used for Additive Manufacturing or in Powder Metallurgy to manufacture products in a broad range of demanding applications, including aerospace, defence, biomedical, and other civilian applications with increased sustainability.

The Humboldt Prize

Every year, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation grants up to 100 Humboldt Research Awards to internationally leading researchers of all disciplines from abroad in recognition of their academic record to date.

Named after the late Prussian naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt, the Humboldt Prize offers a cash prize of €60,000 annually to internationally renowned scientists and scholars.

Z Zak Fang is a globally recognised innovator in the areas of cemented tungsten carbide, refractory metals, titanium, Powder Metallurgy, and metal hydride for hydrogen and thermal energy storage. Prior to joining the University of Utah, Fang had a decade-long career in industrial R&D. He has authored or co-authored over 180 peer reviewed publications. He is the named sole or co-inventor in over sixty issued US patents. He founded/co-founded two start-up companies and successfully commercialised several tungsten carbide and titanium technologies.

As well as the Humboldt, Fang is a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, ASM, and APMI, respectively. In 2009 he was the winner of an R&D100 Award.

www.Utah.edu

www.humboldt-foundation.de

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