Steelmakers are pushing to test the technology to produce new high-quality metallurgy products at a higher cost than current electrolysis methods.
They’re also using it in new ways, like using the water-soluble metal as a filler in a new high strength and strength-to-weight ratio steel alloy.
The process involves the removal of the material and the application of heat to break down the metal and produce the water for the electrolysis.
The companies are also experimenting with the process in the making of aluminum, steel and magnesium, and they’re hoping to expand on their electrolysis use in the next decade.
The idea is to use a water-repellent, high strength-weight material to help make the materials more robust and to lower the weight of the process.
“It’s an energy-saving technology,” said Andrew M. Shafer, president and CEO of the Steel Institute of America.
“It can help save costs, because you have to go through more energy and materials to make a steel than it does to make aluminum, and so you can save on materials.”
The companies aren’t the first to seek the electrolytic solution.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Institute for Standards and Engineering and the United States Steel Institute are also using electrolysis as an energy saving technique.
The industry has a long history of making materials and products with materials that are both strong and cheap, but also have high melting points.
Hydrolysis has a history of producing materials with both high strength properties and low melting points, but it has come under fire for producing materials that aren’t as stable or cost-effective as they should be.
The industry is working on ways to improve its ability to produce higher-quality materials with lower costs and to reduce the amount of energy used in the process, said Steve A. Sonderman, senior vice president for regulatory affairs at the International Association of Machinery and Metallurgy.
“Hydrolysing is one of those things where it’s so important to make sure you’re producing materials at the right level of quality and reliability,” he said.
“There are a number of technologies that we’re looking at, and we’re talking about things like additive manufacturing, and you’re really just looking for the right balance between these technologies and what is best for the environment.”
While the industry is still experimenting with its own techniques, the idea is that by finding a way to use the metal at a cheaper cost, it could save the industry on material costs.
“When you go into the production process, you’re making a steel, and it’s a pretty complicated thing to make,” said Shafer.
“And so when you can just use water, and not having to pay for the water and the labor to make the steel, then that’s a cost-saving measure.”
Sonderman pointed out that the cost of electrolytic production is one reason why some companies like Boeing, the aerospace industry and the auto industry are making the switch to hydrogen fuel cells.
But with the price of hydrogen at a historic low, the companies are starting to look at other alternatives.
“We think the electrolyte is going to be a key part of that shift in the automotive industry and will also be a catalyst for other companies,” he added.
“I think that’s the way it’s going to play out.
There are lots of other ways to make high-strength, high-value products, and the more cost-efficient you can make it, the more value you’re going to get from it.”
The process has some drawbacks.
It’s not cheap, and there’s no guarantee that the water will make it through the process without breaking down or being leached from the steel.
But Sonder said the process is well worth the effort, especially if you’re a high-end company like Boeing or a steel company like Lockheed Martin.
“They have a proven, low-cost method for electrolysis, and I think that they’re going the right way,” he told Recode.