The US$2.7 million, three-year project has been announced by the US Department of Energy (DOE)’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, also known as ARPA-E.

"Demand for lightweight metals such as magnesium is growing, but it's expensive and energy-intensive to produce them," said Pete McGrail, the project's lead researcher, PNNL laboratory fellow. "We expect our method will be 50% more energy efficient than the United States' current magnesium production process. This will also decrease carbon emissions and the cost."

Magnesium is used in alloys that decrease weight and increase strength of key parts used in vehicles, airplanes, power generation equipment, industrial processes and buildings. But magnesium is about seven times more expensive to produce than the steel traditionally used in those applications. 

The process uses a new, titanium-based catalyst that regenerates an important chemical used in the magnesium extraction process. The catalyst will enable a more efficient process and use less energy. PNNL's process will require temperatures of no more than 300°C, which is much lower than the 900°C required by the current processes.

The project team plans to develop a prototype system that uses the new process. 

ARPA-E is providing US$2.4 million for the project, while PNNL's project partners will provide the following cost-share matching US$210,000 from Global Seawater Extraction Technologies and US$60,000 from US Magnesium.