Magnesium is the lightest of all metals and is in rising demand from car manufacturers who are turning to the metal as a solution for making lightweight, low-emission vehicles. With the aim of reinvigorating the metal production industry in Australia, CSIRO and Enirgi Group have joined forces to develop and commercialize an affordable and low-emission technology, known as MagSonic, for producing magnesium metal. CSIRO and Enirgi Group’s Innovation Division will work together to further develop and validate the MagSonic technology.
New Technology for Magnesium Production
A lot of the current commercial production methods for magnesium rely on silicothermic and electrolytic processes, where the mineral ore is extracted. Magnesium is a very reactive metal so one of the biggest challenges with these processes is the tendency for magnesium to revert to magnesium oxide as the reaction products cool.
The CSIRO-developed technology produces magnesium via a carbothermal reduction and a supersonic nozzle, which enables the process to used up to 80% less energy and up to 60% less carbon dioxide emissions. It involves heating magnesia with carbon to extreme temperatures to produce magnesium vapor and carbon monoxide, which are passed through a supersonic nozzle — similar to a rocket engine — at four times the speed of sound to cool the gases in milliseconds, condensing and solidifying the magnesium vapor to magnesium metal.
Once the technology is proven ready for commercialization, Enirgi Group has the option to take up an exclusive global license that would see the company initially build a commercial-scale magnesium production facility in Australia.
“We’re delighted to be working with Enirgi Group as our technology and commercial partners, with their experience in developing new processes to disrupt and change industry dynamics,” said Dr. Mark Cooksey, who leads CSIRO’s sustainable process engineering group. He explained that commercialization of MagSonic would help take advantage of Australia’s abundant reserves of magnesite ore that remain largely untapped.
“The growth of magnesium use has been limited because it’s been too expensive and labour-intensive to produce the metal from ore using traditional processes,” Cooksey said. “Our MagSonic technology offers an economically-viable solution to overcome these issues and make clean magnesium more available and affordable to manufacturers.”
“We are pleased to be working with CSIRO on this exciting opportunity to bring reliable supply of magnesium metal to the global market in an environmentally sustainable way,” said Anthony Deal, Enirgi Group’s vice president of Corporate Development. “We are confident that this process is capable of commercial production. The flow-through benefits to emerging industries like electric vehicle manufacturing are enormous, not to mention a substantial reduction in carbon emissions when compared to current magnesium production processes.”