The Mediterranean country controls more than two-thirds of the global market for boron, a "wonder element", which is increasingly being used in high-tech industries.
Türkiye is shoring up its boron exports drastically as various companies working in industries ranging from defence to clean energy find innovative ways to use the ‘critical wonder element,’ experts tell TRT World.
Last year, Türkiye — the world's largest boron producer and the holder of 70 percent of the global boron market share — exported $1 billion worth of boron-derived products, including compounds, which are used as fuel in rockets or to make impenetrable armour for tanks.
“The world boron-related market is around $50 billion. I think Türkiye has the potential to get at least half of it in less than 10 years,” says Dr Selcuk Acar, Plant Director at PAVTEC, a Turkish company developing various advanced products such as trilithium borate, which goes into batteries.
PAVTEC is one of the companies participating in the three-day International Boron Symposium being held at Istanbul Technical University.
For decades, boron compounds have been essential for the production of textiles, soaps and glass. But its extensive applications are now being explored across a wide range of sectors. As Acar notes, “Normally you don't see boron in daily life, but in MRI devices and in other healthcare applications, quite a lot of boron usages are available now.”
“If you multiply it with the number of cars produced every year, you can say tonnes of high-quality boron are produced and consumed every year.”
In recent years, scientists have found novel applications for boron, which Nasuh Arik of Turkish Energy, Nuclear and Mineral Research Agency says has various unique properties.
“Boron is what we call a ‘critical wonder element.’ Boron-based material like cubic boron nitride has the highest hardness after diamond. It is lightweight and it has a very high heat resistance.”
Helping green energy
With climate crisis at the forefront of the world’s common agenda, scientists hope green hydrogen obtained from solar or wind power can help reduce fossil fuel use in the future.
But the hydrogen industry is still struggling to find efficient and economical ways of storing and transporting the element. A material made of boron has the potential to offer a solution, according to scientists.
“Our newly created material named hydrogen boride can be used as hydrogen storage material. You can store hydrogen using this material with very high efficiency,” says Dr Takahiro Kondo from the University of Tsukuba in Japan.
Dr Kondo notes that his team is “collaborating with big automobile companies in Japan” to try and verify the properties of hydrogen boride within the next year or two.
Türkiye, which started producing very basic boron powder, has gradually moved up the value chain with more complicated boron compounds.
One application that is seen as having tremendous potential is using a boron compound to produce electricity via a fusion reaction.
Conventional nuclear power plants rely on fission reactions to produce heat. Besides being expensive, the process generates a lot of radioactive material and requires turbines to produce electricity.
An Australian company, HB11, is experimenting with lasers to produce a fusion reaction that directly supplies power to the grid.
“The goal of the company is to find a commercial path to create fusion energy from a reaction that contains normal hydrogen and boron 11,” explains Jan Kirchhoff, chief financial officer of HB11 Energy.
“It’s all a matter of scale. Of course for each single laser shot, we use milligrams of this fuel, but imagine if you power the whole world, then the quantities immediately go higher.”
As Dr Kondo affirms, “Boron is a key material and Türkiye’s role is very important.” And while Türkiye stands to benefit immensely if the hydrogen boride fusion technology is widely adopted, so too does the entire planet, Kirchhoff says, explaining that, “We can power the world for thousands of years with the boron reserves in Türkiye.”