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ARPA-E to award up to $20M for technologies for primary domestic processing of light metals (Al, Mg, Ti); vehicle lightweighting

The US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) has issued a Funding Opportunity Announcement (DE-FOA-0000882) for up to $20 million for the Modern Electro/Thermochemical Advancements for Light-metal Systems (METALS) program. METALS is to support the development of innovative technologies for cost-effective processing and recycling of aluminum, magnesium and titanium (Al, Mg and Ti).

ARPA-E also last week issued a Funding Opportunity Announcement (DE-FOA-0000881) for up to $20 million to fund the development of bioconversion technologies to convert methane into liquid fuels. (Earlier post.)

Light metals background. The light metals Al, Mg and Ti can play a significant enabling role in future energy savings across a wide range of applications, including, but not limited to: transportation, power production, industrial processing, and structures. With their high strength-to-weight ratios, these metals can enable lighter, fuel efficient vehicles with no reduction in performance or safety.

Strength, energy, emissions, cost, and density of Al, Mg and steel
  Aluminum Magnesium Steel
Strength-to-Weight Ratio (kN·m/kg) 130 158 38
Processing Energy (kWh/kg) Hall-Heroult: 56 Western Electrolytic: 43.6
Pidgeon Process: 102
Theoretical Minimum Energy (kWh/kg) 7.5 5.8 2.4
Emissions (kgCO2/kg) Hall-Heroult: 22 Western Electrolytic: 6.9
Pidgeon Process: 37
Domestic Production Cost ($/kg) 2.00 3.31 0.47
Density (kg/m3) 2700 1800 7870

Strength, energy, emissions, cost, and density of Ti and S. steel
  Titanium Stainless steel
(Type 304)
Strength-to-Weight Ratio (kN·m/kg) 120 77
Processing Energy (kWh/kg) Kroll Process: 100 21
Theoretical Minimum Energy (kWh/kg) 4.7 n/a
Emissions (kgCO2/kg) Kroll Process: 36 6.8
Domestic Production Cost ($/kg) Sponge: 9.00 2.40
Density (kg/m3) 4500 8030

Titanium has superb native corrosion resistance, while aluminum is typically alloyed with magnesium to give it more ductility, weldability, and corrosion resistance.

The higher cost of aluminum and magnesium relative to steel is a barrier to adoption in many applications. Similarly, while titanium has the potential to compete with 304 stainless steel in many applications, cost is also a barrier. In order to achieve the large energy reductions that is possible with greater use of magnesium and aluminum, the primary processing of light metals must reach parity with steel on cost, energy consumption, and CO2 emissions, ARPA-E says. Radical new approaches to the processing of light metals are needed to reach parity with steel (Mg and Al) and stainless steel (Ti).

ARPA-E has calculated the cost, energy, and emissions intensities for aluminum and magnesium that would give parity to parts made from steel and for those required for titanium to reach parity with stainless steel. The steel equivalent cost, energy, and emission intensities for the light metals provide the benchmark performance targets for light metal production, and are the basis for the establishment of the cost targets for Al, Mg, and Ti in the FOA.

Energy, emissions, and cost requirements for parity with steel and stainless steel
  Aluminum Magnesium Titanium
Current Steel parity Current Steel parity Current S.S. parity
Energy (kWh/kg) 56 20.2 43.6 27.3 100 35
Emissions (kgCO2/kg) 22 7.3 6.9 9.8 36 11.3
Cost ($/kg) 2.00 1.47 3.31 1.98 9.00 4.01

METALS objectives. The METALS program seeks to provide the technical underpinnings for a disruptive impact in the domestic light metals manufacturing industry and accelerate the adoption of light metals in energy relevant applications. The emphasis is on domestic production, ARPA-E notes—due to the energy intensive nature of light metals, importing these metals is equivalent to importing embedded energy, which runs counter to the US goal of reducing energy imports.

The existing bulk production processes for aluminum (Bayer and Hall-Heroult), magnesium (Pidgeon), and titanium (Kroll) have been in industrial practice for many decades. These processes are mature on the learning curve, and their further advancement to provide the cost, energy, and emissions intensity not appear to be on the horizon.

Therefore, new pathways for light metal processing and the management of energy throughout them need to be considered. Some alternative approaches that are potentially disruptive to the current practice for light metal processing are now presented as possible avenues for research and development: chemical pathways, energy inputs, heat-recovery/energy-storage/thermal-management, alternative ore feedstocks, and advanced sorting for recycling. These are not meant to be prescriptive, nor should they limit the response to this FOA.


The FOA specifies two categories of interest:

  • Category 1. Transformative routes to produce primary Al, Mg, and/or Ti (powder, including Titanium Hydride powder), that provide significant reductions to cost, energy, and emissions.

    Preference will be given to concepts that allow for one or more of the following: variable energy inputs; renewable energy inputs; high temperature heat capture; high temperature thermal storage; and utilization of domestically abundant ores.

  • Category 2. Transformative technologies that enable rapid, precision, and automated sorting of Al, Mg, and Ti alloy scrap. Integrated sorting technologies and high efficiency secondary light metal production processes that enable finished product from recycled scrap are also of interest.

Specifically not of interest are melting technologies; casting technologies; power generation technologies (available technologies for power generation will be assumed, but not funded by ARPA-E through this program); processes that are not amenable to start-up and shut-down cycles; recycling/secondary production technologies that only offer energy efficiency advantages without also incorporating advanced sorting technologies; and solid oxide membrane electrochemical processes for magnesium.

METALS technical performance targets
  Processing Energy
Target Ind. current Target Ind. current Target Ind. current
Al ≤20 56 ≤7 22 ≤$1.50 $2.00
Mg ≤27 44 (US Mag.)
102 (Pidg.)
≤10 7 (US Mag.)
37 (Pidg.)
≤$2.00 $3.31 (US Mag.)
$2.50 (China Pidg.)
Ti ≤35 100 ≤11 36 ≤$4.00 $9.00



I always thought you would get your money back at the end in fuel savings (in a car/truck) but perhaps once you consider insurance and repairs you dont.. does anyone have any good numbers for this?


The cost target of $1.50/Kg for Al has already been reached. China will have the capability to produce Al @ about $1.00/Kg soon and so will many other places.

Improved Al alloys could be used to make lighter vehicles in the very near term.

Improved plastic composites, re-enforced with NCC or graphene, will replace Al in the not too distant future.


Al should be the easiest target to hit for the Auto industry. Most of the "heavy" parts such as engine blocks/heads, transmission cases, various subframe structural components have been made from it since the mid to late 90s.

We in America have a vast resource on tap, Al beverage cans, the likes of which no other nation has. Not to mention cars here are about 95%+ recycled/reused, most parts are used as is, the rest are refurbished/remanufactured, the rest sadly have to be melted down then reused, but when that happens, what was a car, is usually an empty steel husk void of anything of value.(also, cars are made from recycled consumer materials, plastic bottles, cans, glass, industry yarns ect. as recycling has a huge cost benefit over digging up new ore)

If the nation as a whole recycled Al cans as fervently as they do cars there wouldn't be an issue of costs for aluminum.


If you mean Al beverage cans are not reused as is, as are car parts, of course you are right.

But do many aluminum cans end up in land fills - for the last 20 years?

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