A Rotherham metals company is launching the commercial production of tantalum - an element with a host of hi-tech applications - using a new technique that could revolutionise the industry.
Metalysis, based on the old Manvers pit site in Wath, has successfully completed trials of a process which is faster, cheaper and greener than traditional methods, in what it claims is the first new tantalum production plant in Europe for more than 30 years.
The metal is used in capacitors in mobile phones and pacemakers and has huge potential for the 3D printed replacement joints thanks to its biocompatibility.
The breakthrough comes 10 years after the firm moved from Cambridge to South Yorkshire to take advantage of the area’s metals expertise.
Technical director, Ian Mellor, said: “We have reached the pinnacle, all the hard work has paid off. I might be biased but it’s a revolution.
“Hopefully we are going to have a bigger year next year and the year after but at the moment this is significant for us, definitely.
“The process works on 50 elements and allows us to make wholly new alloys that wouldn’t be possible through conventional methods such as melting.
“It’s impossible to put a number on it because the opportunities are endless. We have got so much opportunity there was a risk of doing a little with a lot. So we have had to focus on one or two metals.
“It’s not going to be tomorrow, but I think the steel makers do need to be looking over their shoulder and thinking how to diversify to keep up with innovations.”
Metalysis is close to the commercial production of titanium using the same one-step electrolysis technology. Last week it announced it had joined a £1.5m project funded by the Aerospace Technology Institute to create titanium aerospace parts using 3D printing.
Chief executive Dion Vaughan said titanium - which is light, strong, corrosion and heat resistant - could eventually replace aluminium and steel in many products.
Dion Vaughan, chief executive of Metalysis said: “With the successful commercial production of significant quantities of tantalum, Metalysis is expediting the widespread use of high performance metals in a range of industries including 3D printing. The commercial production of tantalum powder at our new plant demonstrates that the Metalysis technology is scalable and mature. We are now looking forward to expanding its application across the periodic table into new metals and markets.”
The firm has been backed by private equity, public and private investors for 10 years.
Chairman Douglas Caster said: “The Metalysis business addresses one of the most significant challenges in the development of specialist metals – how to produce high grade metal powders for mass consumption. It has the know-how and the expertise to bring niche, high-performance metals, such as titanium and tantalum, to many new downstream applications. Furthermore its technology is future proofed and patented, which presents the opportunity to attract wealth and investment as the company expands in South Yorkshire and internationally. There is a huge level of excitement around the potential of its transformational technology, which can be applied to various elements of the periodic table.”