IperionX Wins US Air Force Challenge to Turn Titanium Scrap into 3D Printing Metal

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IperionX, a Charlotte-based mining company that manufacturers titanium powders for additive manufacturing (AM), announced that it has won the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Grand Challenge #4 contract for titanium recycling. The Grand Challenge is a series of competitions for up to $500,000 in R&D funding from the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), a technology accelerator division of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

Specifically, the competition called for companies to submit proposals of recycling methods for Ti-6Al-4V powder used in AM that would be cheaper than the cost of new powder. Ti-6Al-4V powder is one of the most widely used materials in metal AM, especially in applications for the aerospace sector.

IperionX has successfully completed Phase 1 of the challenge by winning the contract, which landed the company $125,000. If it successfully completes Phases 2-4 over the next 10 months at its production facility in Salt Lake City — with the objective of Phase 4 being to, “[b]uild, test, and analyze cost savings for the overall concept” — IperionX will be granted the additional $375,000.

Image courtesy of AFRL

In a press release announcing the news, the company’s CEO, Anastasios Arima, commented, “Winning the Grand Challenge is an outstanding endorsement of IperionX’s patented titanium technologies. Our leading technologies can efficiently recycle titanium scrap metal and metal powders at lower cost than existing processes, and we look forward to working closely with NSIN, AFRL and other [DoD] agencies to qualify and rapidly deploy the use of circular titanium metal across key defense platforms.” Dr. Calvin Mikler, a materials engineer at the AFRL, added, “IperionX seemed to really understand the purpose of the Grand Challenge and pitched a unique strategy to deoxygenate and rejuvenate used titanium powders and scrap materials back into powder suitable for [AM] of aerospace-quality parts.”

Image courtesy of IperionX

Last year, IperionX worked with the US Department of Energy (DOE) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to validate use of the company’s Ti-6Al-4V powders in AM. IperionX’s approval by both the DoD and DOE bodes well for the company’s future in the government procurement market: as well as, in turn, its potential to become integral to other critical areas of the economy.

This is precisely the type of application that suggests that there is potential for AM to receive investment dollars on an even greater scale over the next few years. The nations that are the worst carbon emitters have set net-zero targets for 2050, but they’ve also set intermediary targets of greatly reduced emissions by 2030. That’s not very far away!

Hitting those targets without greatly and rapidly expanding national recycling capacities, especially in the US and China, seems impossible. AM is better-suited for handling recycled materials in the long run than conventional manufacturing, if only because the amount of wasted materials to begin with is far less. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that $4.5 trillion will have to be spent on clean energy by 2030, in order for the 2050 targets to be met. It is quite likely that some substantial percentage of that money will go towards the nexus between advanced manufacturing and recycling.

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