Beryllium’s Back, Baby

Air Force Research Laboratory engineers, in partnership with industry, reestablished a domestic manufacturing capability for primary (high-purity) beryllium metal. Manufactured at a new reduction plant in Elmore, Ohio, beryllium is a critical component in several Department of Defense (DoD) applications.

(Graphic illustration provided by Jessica L. Tozer)

(Graphic illustration provided by Jessica L. Tozer)

“Airborne forward looking infrared (FLIR) systems for fighter aircraft and attack helicopters, guidance systems on existing strategic missiles, structures and components for surveillance satellites, and guidance systems and components for ballistic missile defense systems, are all DoD applications that rely on the use of beryllium,” Howard Sizek, the program manager for the Defense Production Act (DPA) Title III who oversaw the beryllium project, said.

“Beryllium’s specific thermal conductivity makes its composites ideally suited for weight-driven airborne heat-sink applications.”

The Air Force is the executive agent for the Title III Program, a government-funded venture that assists manufacturers who specialize in materials used for defense applications.

“Production capabilities that would otherwise be inadequate are transformed to support the material requirements of defense programs in a timely and affordable manner. Beryllium was an ideal candidate for the program,” Sizek said.

Pebbles from the beryllium manufacturing facility.  (Picture provided by the AF Research Laboratory)

Pebbles from the beryllium manufacturing facility. (Picture provided by the AF Research Laboratory)

The project employed a multi-phase approach to ensure competitive and commercially viable process for the manufacture of primary beryllium.  In 2010, the facility opened and has since demonstrated the production capability of high-purity beryllium at the rate of 160,000 pounds per year.

The plant produced nearly 11,000 pounds of beryllium pebbles during the first quarter of 2013. The material is now fully qualified and being used in strategic DoD applications.

“The direct and indirect benefits to defense programs resulting from Title III initiatives are substantial, and Title III projects create numerous economic and technological benefits for domestic industries and consumers,” Sizek said.

Story and information provided by AFRL/Materials & Manufacturing Directorate 

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