As an intern at Infinium Metals I built a condenser system for metal vapor. When metal ore is pulled from the ground, it is often in oxide form. The typical way of separating out the pure metal from the metal oxide is a dirty and very energy intensive process that produces chlorine gas. New methods of producing high value metals are needed. Current methods pollute and are energy inefficient. Metals such as magnesium can replace steel and aluminum parts in vehicles to make them lighter and thus more fuel-efficient. Other metals, such as neodymium and dysprosium, are needed to produce quality magnets for high efficiency motors and generators.
Infinium is implementing a new system that uses zirconium electrodes to separate the metal with the only byproduct being oxygen and pure metal vapor. When I was hired to work at this company all the engineering effort was put into the separation process. I was given the task of building a system to condense the metal vapor into a liquid, pour the liquid into molds, and then safely disposing the exhaust gas.
The metal exits the separator in the form of an argon vapor mixture. Due to the low vapor pressure of the metal, the vapor had to be condensed into a liquid and then cooled over 400 degrees Celsius to a temperature where is just above the metals freezing point. In order to achieve this I designed a condenser that utilized a series of channels that cooled the metal down to the appropriate temperature. The condenser featured unique molten copper heat pipes that pulled the heat from the inside of the condenser to the surface of the condenser.
Another system that I created was a system to remove the liquid metal from the condenser and cast the metal into ingots. I used the tube that ran from the condenser to a specially designed chamber. The chamber was airtight and contained a mold for an ingot that was positioned under the tube that connected the chamber to the condenser. During normal operation the chamber is kept at the same pressure as the condenser. When the condenser was full the pressure in the chamber was lowered, this drew the metal out of the condenser and filled the ingot.
Due to the high vapor pressure of certain metals (especially magnesium), a system had to be designed to safely handle the gas leaving the condenser. The gas contains metal vapor that could react in the environment with explosive results. The initial prototype used a tube that bubbled the condenser exhaust through water, which neutralized it. However, this was inefficient, since some of the metal product was lost. To solve this issue, I created a system to safely process metal vapor. The idea is to run the exhaust from an industrial process that may contain metal vapor through two separate condensers. The chambers alternate between being at significantly lower temperatures than the melting temperature and at the melting temperature of the metal. The exhaust that passes through the low temperature chamber is condensing all the vapor exhaust into a solid. Meanwhile, the high temperature chamber is closed off to exhaust and melts the solid metal that is condensed inside of it and the liquid metal goes back into the condenser. When the cold chamber is full of metal condensate, the chambers switch roles. The cold chamber is heated up and the hot chamber is cooled down. The system also has the advantage of being economical and environmentally friendly, since none of the metal is lost in this step of the manufacturing process.
This work was done as part of a larger system that was created at and patented by Infinium, the leader in the clean metals production technology. The system was first implemented successfully at the pilot plant that Infinium built. Currently, this system is being offered as part of their proprietary solution to produce cleaner, cheaper metals.