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The Siberian Times

Metal of the future to be produced in Siberia

By The Siberian Times reporter
15 June 2015

Element has a remarkable array of uses, including in space research, car parts, mobile phones, and military drones.

Scientists have been working on the project since 2013, when Tomsk Polytechnic University was appointed by the Ministry of Industry and Trade (Minpromtorg) to develop beryllium production technology. Picture: Alexey Kudenko/RIA

A versatile metal of the future that can be used in the manufacture of mobile phones, missiles and aircraft could soon be harnessed in Siberia.

Researchers at Tomsk Polytechnic University have announced plans to develop technology that will allow beryllium to be produced at the Siberian Chemical Combine.

Described as being 'uniquely strong and light', the element is highly useful and is valued at about $500 (27,500 roubles) per kilogram.

In recent years demand has seen this value double, with it also used in the likes of medical lasers, car parts, and even for elements of Space telescopes.

Only three countries in the world – the United States, China and Kazakhstan – currently process commercially viable quantities of beryllium ores and concentrates. The remaining output comes from Brazil and several nations in Africa, such as Nigeria and Mozambique.

Commercial beryllium ore production in Russia stopped during the 1990s, but now there are hopes that it can start in Siberia as early as 2020 with $30million of investment planned.

Scientists have been working on the project since 2013, when Tomsk Polytechnic University was appointed by the Ministry of Industry and Trade (Minpromtorg) to develop beryllium production technology. 

Alexander Dyachenko, Vice Rector for Research and Innovation at the university, said: 'So far everything suggests that production will be held at the Siberian Chemical Combine.

'In line with Minpromtorg’s programme, a fully-fledged industrial production is scheduled to be launched in 2020. We're meeting the deadlines.'

First Russian beryllium


First Russian beryllium

'In line with Minpromtorg’s programme, a fully-fledged industrial production is scheduled to be launched in 2020.' Pictures: NTV

He added that in collaboration with a subsidiary of the Russian nuclear conglomerate Rosatom's fuel branch TVEL, they produced the first 100 grams of beryllium at the end of January 2015. The next step is to produce between one and two kilograms of metal beryllium.

The extraction of beryllium usually begins with the mining of raw materials, which are then melted in industrial furnaces, solidified and crushed, before being treated with sulphuric acid to produce a water-soluble sulphate.

The sulphate solutions then undergo a series of chemical extraction steps to produce extremely pure beryllium hydroxide, from which all contaminants have been removed. 

It has a number of uses and when alloyed with copper, for instance, it can make springs, gyroscopes, electrical contacts, spot-welding electrodes and non-sparking tools. Other beryllium alloys are used in high-speed aircraft and missiles, as well as spacecraft and communication satellites.

Beryllium copper is also used in windshield frames, brake discs, support beams, and other structural components of the space shuttle.

On the ocean floor, copper beryllium housings protect the electronics that allow fibre optic cables to function flawlessly.

Beryllium is used in the manufacture of computers and cell phones, and it can also be found in car airbags and electronic braking systems. It is also a crucial component of navigation technology, including Global Positioning Systems (GPS) used for air-traffic control.

And when the Hubble space telescope could not see clearly, its new “corrective lenses” were mounted in beryllium fixtures to cope with dimensional distortions brought on by extreme temperatures.

Other uses include in military equipment, such as unmanned drones, and in x-ray machines at airports.

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