Defense Production Act Title III project establishes domestic source for beryllium

  • Published
  • By Air Force Research Laboratory
  • ManTech
The U.S. lost its sole capability to manufacture high-purity beryllium metal when Materion Corporation (formerly Brush Engineered Materials, Inc.) decommissioned its beryllium reduction facility in Elmore, Ohio, in 2000. At the time, the closure was the result of several factors, including: equipment obsolescence, environmental operating concerns, availability of beryllium from the National Defense Stockpile (NDS), and perceived softening demand in the U.S. Without a reliable supplier, foreign or domestic, Defense Production Act (DPA) Title III authorities were asked to reestablish a new, beryllium reduction plant in the U.S. to ensure a dedicated supply of the resource would be maintained for national defense.


The project employed a multi-phase approach. During the first phase, initiated in 2005, Materion verified the business case for the project, and prepared a detailed Engineering and Design Plan (E&DP) for a new primary beryllium reduction plant. This facility is commonly referred to as the "Pebbles Plant," for shape of the beryllium metal produced in the plant. The E&DP identified all activities required to plan, design, permit, equip, qualify, start and operate the Pebbles Plant.

Materion conducted a pre-engineering study to provide a plus/minus five percent cost estimate for the plant. This included a comprehensive Strategic Business Plan that addressed the key aspects of reestablishing and maintaining a competitive and commercially viable process for the manufacture of primary beryllium. A detailed marketing plan was also prepared which assessed and verified the military and commercial market demand for primary beryllium.

During the second phase, from 2008 to 2012, the team executed the detailed E&DP to establish the infrastructure, facilities, and install equipment necessary to operate a primary beryllium reduction facility.

By May 2010, a ribbon-cutting ceremony took place at the plant, signifying the completion of major construction activities for the plant. Today the plant stands 73 feet tall, has a 51,045-square-foot footprint and contains 124,358 total square feet of floor space over three levels.

The new facility has demonstrated the planned production capability of high-purity beryllium at the rate of 160,000 pounds per year.

Both Materion and an independent, third-party laboratory analyzed samples of the high-purity beryllium (S-200 F grade) and AlBeMetTM, the Aluminum Beryllium composite both produced using pebbles from the new plant. The qualification test results met current specifications and both products are now fully qualified and being used in Department of Defense (DoD) applications.

Under the guidance of DPA Title III authorities, Materion identified, measured, tracked and achieved all Key Performance Parameters identified in planning, designing, permitting, equipping, qualifying, starting-up and operating the Pebbles Plant. The plant produced nearly 11,000 pounds of beryllium pebbles during the first quarter of 2013 and Materion is fully engaged in continuous improvement and lean manufacturing efforts to increase plant capacity to 20,000 pounds of pebbles in the fourth quarter of 2013.


Engineers from the Air Force Research Laboratory's Defense Production Act Title III program, in partnership with industry, reestablished a domestic manufacturing capability for primary (high-purity) beryllium metal. By reestablishing this domestic production capability, Title III ensures a dedicated supply of this critical domestic resource is maintained for national defense.

High-purity beryllium is used in several Department of Defense applications where no suitable material substitute exists. These applications include: 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. Beryllium's specific thermal conductivity makes its composites ideally suited for weight-driven airborne heat-sink applications.

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