In a move that could help reinvigorate the metal production industry in Australia, CSIRO and Enirgi Group have joined forces to develop and commercialise an affordable and low-emission technology for producing magnesium metal.
The CSIRO-developed technology, known as MagSonic, produces magnesium using up to 80 per cent less energy and up to 60 per cent less carbon dioxide emissions thanks to a supersonic nozzle.
Magnesium is the lightest of all metals and is in rising demand from car manufacturers who are turning to the metal as a solution for making lightweight, low-emission vehicles. CSIRO and Enirgi Group’s Innovation Division will work together to further develop and validate the MagSonic technology.
Dr Mark Cooksey, who leads CSIRO’s sustainable process engineering group, said commercialisation of MagSonic would help take advantage of Australia’s abundant reserves of magnesite ore that remain largely untapped.
“The growth of magnesium use has been limited because it’s been too expensive and labour-intensive to produce the metal from ore using traditional processes,” Dr Cooksey said.
According to www.metalpedia.asianmetal.com/, Australia has a recoverable resource of 202Mt of magnesium ore. All deposits are exploited as open cut mines and most are found in South Australia, followed by Queensland and Tasmania.
Queensland Magnesia (QMAG) exploits the Kunwarara deposit, where mining commenced in 1989. Proven resources are in excess of 87 million tonnes of ore. Orind Australia owns the Thuddungra magnesite deposit in New South Wales.
“Our MagSonic technology offers an economically-viable solution to overcome these issues and make clean magnesium more available and affordable to manufacturers. MagSonic uses carbothermal reduction and a supersonic nozzle to efficiently produce high quality magnesium.”
It involves heating magnesia with carbon to extreme temperatures to produce magnesium vapour and carbon monoxide. The vapour and carbon monoxide are passed through a supersonic nozzle – similar to a rocket engine – at four times the speed of sound to cool the gases in milliseconds, condensing and solidifying the magnesium vapour to magnesium metal.
In recent years, CSIRO has been developing new sustainable technologies to help the Australian metal production industry compete in an increasingly environmentally-conscious and globalised world. MagSonic compliments a suite of CSIRO-developed magnesium technologies, including T-mag, twin roll strip casting and high pressure die casting.
Image: The Morning Bulletin – CHRIS ISON