Titanium pilot plant

The titanium pilot plant was constructed to produce commercially pure grade titanium powder for downstream titanium alloy powder production and for the manufacture of titanium components for industry. The establishment of the Department of Science and Technology-funded plant was an important goal of the strategy of the SA Titanium Centre of Competence (TiCoC), which aims to beneficiate South African minerals.

South Africa has some of the largest reserves of titanium-bearing minerals, such as ilmenite, primarily comprising of iron oxide and titanium dioxide. Iron is typically separated from the ilmenite ore through a pig-iron smelting process to make a slag containing a high percentage of titanium dioxide. South Africa is one of the largest producers of titanium-bearing slag globally. Whilst this slag can be used in the manufacture of pigment used in paint, paper, plastics as well as titanium metal, local beneficiation of the titanium-rich slag is virtually non-existent, hence the economic need to beneficiate and add value to the country’s base-minerals.

The titanium pilot plant design targets the continuous production of titanium metal powder. The process is based on a CSIR-developed and patented high-temperature, alkali-metal reduction process, capable of producing titanium powder. The facility is specialised in that process equipment have been customised for the first-of-a-kind engineering process.

Some of the customised equipment that was designed and built in-house are the titanium tetrachloride feed system, molten alkali-metal feed system and reactor vessels employed by the process. There are also facilities for the recrystallisation, leaching and electrolysis needed for downstream recovery of the alkali-metal salts, these being important for ensuring the cost-effectiveness of the process. The current plant intends to fulfil key technology development requirements needed for a fully commercialised plant.

The plant is currently being optimised to improve process efficiency and plant reliability. The optimised plant layout is scheduled to be operational by the third-quarter of 2018.

Collaboration with industrial partners is viewed as a key factor towards ultimate commercialisation of the CSIR titanium process. It is expected that collaboration with potential commercial partners will manifest as the technology readiness level of the process is enhanced.

Fast fact

  • To CSIR process-related patents were granted in numerous territories. A third patent is pending for a new design, aimed at improving powder quality.

Contact Person

Dr Shahed Fazluddin

Technical Specifications

The Titanium Centre of Competence
  • Operating temperature: 650 – 700 ºC
  • Operating pressure: Atmospheric
  • Atmosphere: Inert (Argon gas)
  • Production rate: 2kg/hr

Key Concept

Titanium is highly valued for its strength, low density,corrosion resistance and biocompatibility. It can be processed into a fine metal powder which can be processed using several powder metallurgical technologies to produce near nett shape products requiring little further machining, if any, to produce final product components. The CSIR is developing a process to produce titanium powder directly in a continuous manner on a commercial scale from titanium tetrachloride (TiCl4 – the usual precursor used for titanium metal production).