The organisation says that this is the first time it has been attempted on a commercial scale. Being able to produce titanium powder at a much lower cost than present imports will make this light metal an economically viable option.

The CSIR’s process is being developed in a stage-wise manner to manage the inherent scale-up risks, and it has now reached the stage where the design, construction and operation of a small pilot plant have been approved by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the CSIR. The project is funded by the DST.

“In the CSIR’s process, the rate of TiCl4 reaction is slowed down by executing the process in a molten salt medium that allows better control of the titanium particle morphology than other process variations,” said Dr Dawie van Vuuren who heads up the CSIR’s piloting of titanium metal production.

The pilot plant has a nominal design capacity of continuously producing 2 kg/h of titanium powder. Construction and commissioning of the plant are to be completed by 31 March 2013.

“Test campaigns to gain scale-up information regarding the process, and to produce sufficient product for evaluation by potential customers, are planned following successful commissioning of the plant,”  van Vuuren added. “South Africa’s entire titanium beneficiation strategy depends largely on the success of this pilot plant and its further commercialisation. The national benefits that would arise from a world-scale, low-cost titanium metal plant are considerable."

Previously, the South African government invested allocated R100 million over a three-year period to help develop a titanium industry in South Africa.