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ORNL and IperionX Team to Explore 3D Printing Parts with Low-Cost Titanium

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Titanium remains the most popular material in metal 3D printing. However, it’s also the most expensive. IperionX (NASDAQ: IPX, ASX: IPX) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) seek to change that through a new technical collaboration.

IperionX’s 3D Printing Powders

IperionX (formerly known as “Hyperion”) is working to commercialize hydrogen assisted magnesiothermic reduction (HAMR) technology, a thermochemical process developed by Dr. Z. Zak Fang and his team at the University of Utah that exposes titanium oxides to hydrogen gas to create titanium metal. Overall, HAMR is said to reduce carbon emissions by removing workflow stages, eliminating manufacturing inputs, and cutting the overall energy consumption of titanium production. Another Fang/Utah process, called granulation-sintering-deoxygenation (GSD), is meant to be able to produce spherical titanium powders a much lower cost than typical methods.

Previously, the company worked with EOS to perform a technical and economic evaluation of titanium powders made with HAMR and GSD, as well as the recyclability of titanium with those processes.. Now, using the U.S. Department of Energy’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF), ORNL and IperionX will be evaluating the use of IperionX’s titanium powders for additive manufacturing (AM). The project is set to achieve a variety of objectives:

  • Evaluating and characterizing the firm’s titanium for 3D printing parts typically made with other metals, like stainless steel and aluminum.
  • Show that parts pressed and sintered have properties comparable to or better than those made with standard AM titanium powders.

At ORNL’s 110,000-square-foot MDF, the partners will make and test parts that are pressed and sintered to validate whether commercially pure titanium or Ti-6Al-4V alloy made by IperionX can be used for light-weighting in transportation sector. This includes use in heavy trucks, aircraft, or other transportation areas where titanium may be advantageous over steel and aluminum.

The State of Titanium 3D Printing Powders

While titanium is the most prevalent metal in AM, demand seems to be decreasing. According to the “Additive Manufacturing with Metal Powders 2020” report from SmarTech Analysis, the powder actually saw an oversupply problem in 2020, due to reduced industrial activity during the year. This included “suspension of nonessential medical procedures, which all but eliminated demand for certain types of new titanium medical devices during the first half of the year,” according to the report.

Anastasios (Taso) Arima, IperionX’s Managing Director and CEO said: “We are extremely pleased to be working with ORNL. The laboratory is an ideal partner for IperionX, with expertise in additive manufacturing, along with a strong interest in identifying new powder feedstocks that lower costs and increase energy efficiency, particularly in transportation.

“ORNL brings a knowledge base from numerous collaborations with advanced manufacturing companies, such as partnering in Volkswagen’s first U.S. innovation hub in Tennessee to develop lighter vehicle components from composite materials and electrify vehicles, its recent work with NASA which resulted in a 3D printed thermal protection shield traveling to the International Space Station, or its 3D printing work with Boeing’s 777x.

“Both organizations share Tennessee roots, and we look forward to progressing the User Agreement and establishing a strong relationship between IperionX and ORNL.”

For this reason, it’s not surprising that IperionX would be seeking out new applications for its prized metal. The Australian-American company owns a 100% interest in the Titan Project in Tennessee, U.S., a titanium resource the company claims is also rich in rare earth minerals. IperionX is already working with the U.S. Navy to test titanium flight critical metal replacement parts made with 3D printing.

Image courtesy of IperionX.

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