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ARPA-E Funding Lightweight Materials for Greener Automobiles

ARPA-E Funding to Extract Magnesium from Seawater
ARPA-E Funding to Extract Magnesium from Seawater

The US Department of Energy’s [DOE] Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy [ARPA-E] has made funding available for many projects that could revolutionize energy, and how we use it.

Some of that ARPA-E funding has gone to wind turbines, electric-vehicle battery research, solar power systems, and even geothermal energy projects, among many others.

This week, ARPA-E funding has gone to a couple of projects that could change the way automobiles are made. Ever think that you would see an automobile come out of the sea, except for James Bond’s Lotus Esprit submarine car in The Spy Who Loved Me? The first program is called METALS [Modern Electro-Thermochemical Advancements for Light-metal Systems], focused on the extraction of lightweight materials for the automobile industry. One major problem with fuel economy is weight. Heavier vehicles are safer, but also use more fuel, which is why automakers have been exploring the use of lightweight metals to maintain strength while reducing weight. Aluminum, titanium, and magnesium have all been found to fit the bill, nicely, lightweight and strong, but also expensive.

One METALS-program funding recipient, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory [PNNL], seeks to source these lightweight metals from seawater using a process under the heading, “Catalyzed Organo-Metathetical Process for Magnesium Production from Seawater.” Magnesium salt is extracted from seawater, which is then converted into magnesium. The process could lower the cost of magnesium, about 700% more expensive than steel, and bring magnesium production back to the US. The new method is also less energy-intense, due to lower temperatures used during the reaction, reducing carbon dioxide emissions in another way. Cave Western Reserve University has also received funding for a similar process to manufacture titanium from converted titanium salts extracted from seawater.

Photo credit: Paul’s Lab Foter CC BY-NC-SA

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