SBIR Phase II:Low-Cost Low-Impact Magnesium Production by Solid Oxide Membrane Electrolysis

Award Information
National Science Foundation
Award Year:
Phase II
Agency Tracking Number:
Solicitation Year:
Solicitation Topic Code:
Solicitation Number:
Small Business Information
One Apple Hill Dr. Suite 316, Natick, MA, 01760
Hubzone Owned:
Minority Owned:
Woman Owned:
Principal Investigator:
Adam Powell
(781) 898-3430
Business Contact:
Adam Powell
(781) 898-3430
Research Institution:
This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II project aims to develop a new method for primary production of magnesium from its oxide ore using Solid Oxide Membrane Electrolysis. Unlike other primary metal processes, this approach emits no direct CO2, has no chlorine, and is fully continuous and automated. Published third party cost modeling has indicated that its costs are lower than all existing and proposed new processes. Building on an earlier feasibility demonstration using experiments and mathematical and cost modeling to show that the approach can produce oxygen as well as magnesium at high current efficiency and at costs close to the published cost model, this Phase II project will develop new anode tubes to further reduce energy costs, and build and test the first self-heating electrolysis cell. If successful, the self-heating cell will not require energy beyond that needed for electrolysis and will be the smallest possible pre-production modular unit capable of producing magnesium. The broader/commercial impact of this project begins with substantial reduction of the cost and environmental impact of magnesium metal production. Magnesium is the lowest-density engineering metal and third most abundant metal in the earth's crust, and its stiffness-to-weight, castability, and recyclability make it the best material for motor vehicle weight reduction. Automobile makers are seeking to increase the magnesium alloy content of vehicles from 10-15 lbs/vehicle to 350 lbs/vehicle by 2020, replacing 650 lbs/vehicle of steel and aluminum parts. This will increase fleet fuel economy by 1.5-2 miles per gallon, reducing annual petroleum import expenditures by about $20 billion. If successful, this project will address the biggest barrier to widespread magnesium use in vehicles, which is its price stability and availability. This could lead to a new magnesium economy taking full advantage of its light weight and ease of manufacturing in products from cellphones to laptops to trucks. With broader usage, the versatile process resulting from this development project can likely reduce the cost and environmental impact of reducing metal oxides, leading to a new industrial ecology of primary metals production.

* information listed above is at the time of submission.

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