Titanium, an in-depth study


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Pluses of Titanium

Titanium processing, the extraction of titanium from its ores and the preparation of titanium alloys or compounds for use in various products. Titanium extraction is expensive because the process involves several stages and a lot of energy. This especially limits the uses of titanium.

Titanium is the fourth most abundant structural metal on Earth, exceeded only by aluminum, iron, and magnesium. Workable mineral deposits are dispersed worldwide and include sites in Australia, the United States, Canada, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Ukraine, Russia, Norway, Malaysia, and several other countries.

Titanium ore was first discovered in 1791 in Cornish beach sands by an English clergyman, William Gregor. The actual identification of the oxide was made a few years later by a German chemist, M.H. Klaproth. Klaproth gave the metal constituent of this oxide the name titanium, after the Titans, the giants of Greek mythology.

Aerospace applications

The aerospace market is still the most important, with titanium products being used in both commercial and military aircraft. Gas turbines account for nearly half of annual titanium production. Titanium alloys are utilized principally in the fan and compressor sections at temperatures up to 600 °C. Typical parts include inlet cases, compressor blades, disks, and hubs, as well as spacers and seals. The large high-bypass turbofan engines utilized on wide-body commercial airliners could not have been developed without strong, lightweight titanium alloys. These engines are greater than 25 percent by weight titanium.

Titanium wide-chord fan blades on a Safran engine display, Jordan Tan (2017)

Titanium alloys are also utilized in airframes because of their high strength-to-weight ratios, good toughness, and corrosion resistance. The titanium content of airframes can range from as low as 2 percent to as high as 30 percent by weight. Typical commercial airframes are 4 to 8 percent titanium, while many military aircraft contain greater amounts. The metal is used in fasteners, landing-gear supports, springs, fail-safe straps, and numerous internal bulkhead and wing-support components.

Non aerospace applications

The resistance of titanium to many corrosive environments, particularly oxidizing and chloride-containing process streams, has led to widespread industrial applications. Titanium is resistant to all natural environments, including natural waste products, body fluids, and salt and brackish water; to most salt solutions, including chlorides, bromides, iodides, and sulfides; and to most oxidizing acids, organic acids, and alkaline solutions. The table shows the composition of several industrial alloys, along with their resistance to typical oxidizing and reducing environments.

Most of the uses of this element revolve around its alloys. Of the total titanium produced commercially, approximately 65 percent is used to make the alloys by mixing it with steel. Owing to its excellent strength, it is added to various metals, including steel, to increase their strength and make them corrosion-resistant. It is also known to make the alloy lighter. An alloy of titanium and steel, for instance, will weigh lesser than what pure steel weighs.

Being durable and dent-resistant, titanium is quite popular in the jewelry making industry. In fact, titanium rings and bands have become a rage of late, and put their gold and silver counterparts in the backseat. The metal is also used to produce small artificial gemstones, which are relatively softer than the real gemstones.

Alloys of titanium are used in eyeglass frames, as it makes them highly resistant, light, and long-lasting. Even laptops and a range of cell phones are made of titanium nowadays.

Being light and strong, titanium is also used in firearms manufacturing, wherein it has replaced steel and aluminum as the most-preferred metal.

In sports, titanium is used to make a wide variety of sporting equipment, like golf clubs, tennis rackets, cricket bats, hockey sticks, helmet grills, bicycle frames, etc. Other than racing bicycles, it is also used in racing bikes and cars as it provides strength and durability, without increasing the weight of the machine.

Titanium dioxide, one of the most important compounds of this element, is predominantly used in manufacturing white paint. Other than that, it is also used in production of toothpaste, paper, and plastic.

A relatively new entry in the long list of titanium uses is the introduction of titanium cookware and metal art, which is gaining wide popularity with time. The titanium cookware in particular — along with tents and lanterns made of this metal — are quite popular among backpackers.

Due to its opaque nature, it is widely used in industrial applications, like ultrasonic welding and wave soldering.

As it produces thick fumes in moist air, titanium tetrachloride is used for sky writing, which is done by releasing the compound from an aircraft, and for smoke screens.

In the field of medicine, titanium is used to make pacemakers, artificial replacements for hip and knee joints, crutches, dental implants, surgical instruments, as well as bone plates and screws. An individual using titanium dental implants can undergo MRI examination as these implants are not magnetic.

The strength of this metal and its ability to resist saline water makes it an immensely popular component of marine engineering. It is widely used for manufacturing propeller shafts and other such components of the ship, which are exposed to saline water for prolonged duration. This corrosion resistance also makes titanium an important component of desalination plants, wherein saline water is converted to fresh water.

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