Woburn-based company is commercializing electrolytic metals production technology developed at MIT.
|A high manganese steel ingot in the hands of Boston Metal co-founder and MIT Professor Donald R. Sadoway. Courtesy, Boston Metal.|
MIT spin-off Boston Metal has received a $2,000,000 award from the U.S. Department of Energy to help it commercialize molten oxide electrolysis production of primary iron and steel and a separate $150,000 Small Business Innovation Research [SBIR] award for increasing efficiency of vanadium production. The firm is legally incorporated as Boston Electrometallurgical Corporation.
Boston Metal grew out of a breakthrough in anode design by Professors Donald R. Sadoway and Antoine Allanore that proved an alloy of chromium and iron could generate pure oxygen and iron from a melt of iron oxide at high temperature without producing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.
At its research facility in Woburn, Mass., Boston Metal has successfully produced metals from a variety of feed stocks at about 1,000 times the scale of the initial laboratory research, says Adam Rauwerdink, Director of Strategy and New Ventures.
“The goal was to bring the technology that MIT did, in a coffee cup size experiment, up to long duration testing at a semi-industrial scale,” says Rich Bradshaw, Boston Metal’s Director of Operations. The next goal is to take the technology to full industrial scale production.
DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy [EERE] also awarded Boston Metal a $150,000 SBIR award for work on an energy-saving process for extracting vanadium. Boston Metal will apply new manufacturing technology to supply American steel makers with higher quality vanadium alloys at lower cost, while saving energy, according to DOE. Vanadium is used in high-strength steels that make cars lighter, safer, and more efficient.
Boston Metal Chief Executive Officer Tadeu Carneiro previously served as CEO of CBMM [Companhia Brasileira de Metalurgia e Mineração or Brazilian Company of Metallurgy and Mining] in Brazil. CBMM is the world’s biggest producer of niobium, which is used to strengthen steel and in other applications such as superconductivity.
An electrolysis cell is a closed circuit, like a battery, but instead of producing electrical energy, it consumes electrical energy to produce a target metal or alloy by reducing a molten metal oxide, that is by removing oxygen from the compound. Boston Metal previously received a $2,279,027 award from DOE to develop a one-step molten oxide electrolysis process for producing titanium [Ti] metal directly from its oxide. That award, under DOE’s ARPA-E [Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy] program, runs through May 2019.
Sadoway, the John F. Elliott Professor of Materials Chemistry, says, “I’m very proud of the amazing progress our team has made in moving this process from bench scale at MIT to semi-industrial scale at Boston Metal. The DOE award comes as an endorsement that molten oxide electrolysis is addressing an advanced manufacturing challenge.”
Boston Metal’s iron and steel research award is one of 24 early-stage, innovative technology projects receiving $35 million in total support from DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Advanced Manufacturing Office. The DOE award requires Boston Metal to spend a half million dollars towards the project.