So far, though, Sadoway and colleagues have made only a few grams with an experimental reactor cell. It’s hard for the small, ceramic device to sustain the high temperature needed. Avanti is hoping to raise enough money from investors to build a larger prototype to actually produce a pool of liquid titanium. Sadoway hopes to begin putting together a team of scientists by August and to build working titanium smelters by August 2008.
Nabil Elkouh, president of Erigo Technologies, a consulting firm that puts together deals between researchers and investors, and who’s an advisor to Avanti, cautions that their projection of producing titanium at one-tenth of the current cost, may be optimistic at this point. “They may have something great, but it may take four years,” he says. “It may not ever be one-tenth the cost – but what if it were half the cost? That’d still be great.”
Anderson says plenty of people, from university researchers to companies like DuPont, are working on better ways to produce titanium. He hopes to visit MIT this summer to look at Sadoway’s process and see how well it works.