The U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and Iowa Powder Atomization
Technologies have joined forces in DOE’s America’s
Next Top Energy Innovator challenge to create jobs in Iowa. The program gives start-up companies
the opportunity to sign an option to license technologies created by national
laboratories at reduced costs. On June 30, IPAT signed an option agreement to
license several materials processing technologies developed at the Ames
IPAT plans to use the technologies to make fine spherical titanium powder
for use in military, biomedical, and aerospace applications.
Next Top Energy Innovator program is a great opportunity to secure the option
to use technologies IPAT needs to build a first-of-its-kind commercial-sized
atomizer to create titanium powder,” says Joel Rieken, IPAT cofounder.
“The America’s Next Top Energy Innovator program shines a light on the many
DOE-developed technologies that are just waiting for someone to come along to
examine them, connect the dots between them, and use some creativity to come up
with a business plan,” continues Rieken, who is currently a graduate research
assistant at the Ames Laboratory while he finishes his doctoral degree in
materials science and engineering at Iowa State University.
Rieken, along with his business partner, Andrew Heidloff, who is a
postdoctoral researcher at the Ames Laboratory, plan to use several
technologies developed at Ames Lab that involve precision pouring of molten
titanium and high-energy gas atomization to build a commercial system that will
increase the efficiency of the titanium powder making process and, thus, lower
the cost of the powder to manufacturers.
Titanium’s strength, light weight, biocompatibility and resistance to
corrosion makes it ideal for use in a variety of parts from small arms and
military vehicle components to biomedical implants, aerospace fasteners, and
chemical plant valves.
“While titanium is more expensive than stainless steel, in many cases the
lifetime of a titanium part outlasts a stainless steel part and becomes more
cost effective in the long run,” says Heidloff. “So, there’s a growing interest
in titanium applications. I think we will see it become an important strategic
Traditional part-making techniques like casting, where manufacturers melt
and pour liquid metal into molds, can be troublesome when working with titanium
because titanium tends to react with the materials used to form molds,
requiring extensive machining to convert bulk castings to precise parts.
A possible solution to the casting mold problem is using gas atomization to
make a fine, spherical powder form of titanium and using the powder to make
parts. In gas atomization of titanium, the metal is melted using a standard
commercial process then heated and precisely guided by an Ames
Laboratory-developed pour tube into a high intensity atomization nozzle, also
developed at Ames Lab. The metal is then sprayed out in a fine droplet mist.
Each droplet quickly cools and solidifies, creating a collection of many tiny
spheres, forming fine titanium powder. Manufacturers can then pour the powder
into precise molds and press it together at high temperature to form parts.
“In addition to getting around the difficulties with using molten titanium,
using titanium powder has the benefits of conserving processing time and
energy, and it produces less waste material,” says Rieken. “The overall process
is better, except for the current problems of higher cost and lower
availability of titanium powder. But those are the two problems IPAT is seeking
to solve, and DOE’s America’s
Next Top Energy Innovator challenge is supporting us in finding energy
solutions and in creating jobs in a small business.”
“IPAT had begun initial discussions with us for an option to license when
Next Top Energy Innovator program was announced. We’re thrilled that the DOE
program gave them an additional incentive to finalize the option agreement, and
we’re eager to see IPAT succeed at offering an energy-efficient process for
making titanium powder,” says Deb Covey, the Ames Laboratory’s associate
director for sponsored research administration.
IPAT is collaborating with the Quad Cities
Manufacturing Laboratory and the Ames Laboratory in maturing the technology
for the defense and commercial sectors.
Ames Laboratory, www.ameslab.gov