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Ames Lab process transforms production of titanium parts

State: Iowa

Region: Mid-Continent

Agency: Dept. of Energy

Ames Laboratory (AL)

Titanium powder created with Ames Laboratory-developed technology is being successfully marketed by Praxair for use in parts ranging from aircraft wing structures to replacement knee joints and medical instruments.

The Ames technology involves gas atomization, a method used to produce powder from metals that have been heated to form a liquid. Using this method to make titanium powder that is fine enough for precise manufacturing has been difficult because of the way titanium behaves when it is liquified, but the Ames researchers adapted the process by inserting a specially designed heater nozzle to address that problem. 

This fine, spherical titanium powder is strong, light weight, biocompatible and resistant to corrosion. When used for 3D printing and metal injection molding of aerospace, medical and industrial parts, it generates 10 times less metal waste than traditional casting of parts. 

Also, thanks to the partnership between Ames and Praxair, for the first time large-scale amounts of titanium powder are available to industry for low-cost, high-volume manufacturing.

“Titanium powder made with this technology has huge potential to save manufacturers materials and money,” said Iver Anderson, a senior metallurgist at Ames Laboratory. “Creating titanium powder of high quality at great volumes was what we materials scientists called the Holy Grail of gas atomization.”

Two former Ames Laboratory employees, Joel Rieken and Andy Heidloff, created a spinoff company, Iowa Powder Atomization Technologies (IPAT), to exclusively license Ames Laboratory’s titanium atomization patents. IPAT scientists worked to further optimize the titanium atomization process.

IPAT was acquired in 2014 by Praxair, one of the world’s largest producers of gases and surface coatings, and Praxair began marketing titanium powder the following year. 

In 2017, the high-efficiency “hot shot" pour tube nozzle invented by Anderson, Reiken, Heidloff and their team to more efficiently produce titanium power received an Excellence in Technology Transfer Award from the FLC Mid-Continent Region.

Gas atomization work at Ames Laboratory has been supported by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, Office of Fossil Energy, and Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Some of the specific work on titanium powder was additionally supported by the Iowa State University’s Research Foundation, the State of Iowa Regents Innovation Fund, and the U.S. Army.

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