Step aside, carbon fibre. Seaborn magnesium is the new lightweight superhero in fuel efficiency.
The US Department of Energy has been pumping cash into the development of fuel efficient technology, with $6 million allocated specifically to exploring "light weighting materials."
Magnesium seems to be the best option – it's the eighth most abundant element on earth and it's the lightest structural metal. The only problem so fas has been extracting it from the ocean.
Currently, the process is seven times more expensive than steel-making. Production is also not very eco-friendly because it uses a lot of energy, which defeats the whole point.
Now, the Department's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory may be headed towards a solution. The lab is working on a $2.7 million, three-year project to develop an extraction method which would remove naturally-occurring magnesium from seawater and convert it to magensium using a "novel metal-organic process" with a titanium-based catalyst.
According to a news release by the PNNL, the "process could ultimately make fuel-efficient transportation more affordable and expand the American magnesium market."
"Demand for lightweight metals such as magnesium is growing, but it's expensive and energy-intensive to produce them," said the project's lead researcher, PNNL Laboratory Fellow Pete McGrail. "We expect our method will be 50 percent more energy efficient than the United States' current magnesium production process. This will also decrease carbon emissions and the cost."
Magnesium alloys would decrease weight while increasing strength in car and air plane parts.
Currently, the US has just one magnesium plant, U.S. Magnesium, located in Utah. The country is largely dependent on magnesium imports, one-third of which come from China.