Titanium Panels
(IN PHOTO) Sunset is reflected on Bilbao's Guggenheim museum late June 9. The museum, designed by American architect Frank Gehry, is covered by titanium panels of different shapes. Reuters

The existing discrepancies between empirical and theoretical data on rutile surface structure properties can now be detected, according to a group of researchers from the Laboratory of Computer Design of New Materials at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.

According to research head Qingguo Wang, the group decided to choose rutile since the ore is capable of producing titanium dioxide, one of the commonly used catalysts in chemistry.

The research used the USPEX code, a crystal structure prediction method developed by Professor Artem Oganov, the research’s co-author and MIPT’s laboratory head. According to Oganov, predicting and describing the properties of the surface of a substance is essential in understanding chemical catalysts as this is where special surfaces are formed. This will also help scientists to identify chemical composition and structure typically different from the catalyst’s inherent internal structure.

“Theoretical methods of calculating the properties of surfaces are complicated by some major hindrances, but we've developed a very powerful and effective way to predict the structure and properties of crystal surfaces, based on our USPEX algorithm. We used it for one of the most studied types of surfaces, rutile, a catalyst consisting of titanium dioxide,” wrote Oganov in an article published on Physical Review Letters.

The USPEX method will finally erase the contradictions that permeate through titanium dioxide crystal structure prediction segment. According to Oganov, this method successfully predicted how structure and chemistry of the surface of rutile crystals will change. Although predicting surface phases is only one of the initial steps of the whole picture, it could still lead to the development of more improved titanium dioxide processing technologies.

One of the newest titanium dioxide processing technology today is the Chinuka Process, which is now being exclusively utilised by the emerging Chile-based rutile exploration company White Mountain Titanium Corporation (OTCQB:WMTM). The process is specifically developed to produce refined titanium metal directly from rutile concentrate in a continuous process. The Kroll process, the commonly used process today, produces sponge titanium from titanium tetrachloride in a batch process that makes the entire procedure more expensive and time-consuming.

The Chinuka Process has been successfully tested on White Mountain’s flagship project, the Cerro Blanco Property, where rutile concentrate feedstock was successfully transmuted into high quality titanium metal. Titanium dioxide has been a subject of countless experiments as it is viewed as one of the most important minerals today. Apart from being an essential component in various products such as cosmetics, paints and coatings, and even food, titanium dioxide is also an essential in alternative energy applications such as photovoltaic, or PV, and photoelectrochemical, or PEC, technology.

Titanium dioxide was first established as an important PEC component by researchers at University College London in 2013. The research revealed that “mixed phase titania” catalysts, contrary to what most scientists believe, work by combining two different crystalline structures of titania and that their molecules can be arranged in different ways, producing different crystal structures and properties.

Since then, delving into the undiscovered capabilities of titanium dioxide as an essential PEC technology component has become an obsession among renewable energy-focused institutions across the globe.

To contact the writer, email: vittoriohernandez@yahoo.com