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Titanium
(Released June 2000)

 
  by Richard C. Hummel  

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Titanium's physical qualities of high strength, toughness, durability, low density, corrosion resistance and biological compatibility make it useful in a variety of applications.

Discovered in the late 1500's, titanium was named for the mythological giants, the Titans. In the 1940's, it was used by the space and defense industries. Today, titanium is used in aerospace applications, automobiles, prosthetics, buildings, and sporting equipment.

Titanium is a paradox. Supplies of pure titanium are rare, though titanium ores such as ilmenite and rutile are very common. There is more titanium in the earth's crust than there is nickel, zinc, chromium, tin, lead, mercury, and manganese combined! The ores of these metals are concentrated in large, easily mined bodies, while titanium ores are dispersed throughout the earth's crust.

Only five percent of the titanium mined today is used in its pure metal form. The remainder is used to manufacture titanium dioxide (TiO2), an ingredient in paper, paint, plastics and white food coloring (including the coloring that is used to print the "m"s on M&M candies).

Titanium, which weighs forty percent less than carbon steels, can be strengthened by alloying it with elements such as aluminum and vanadium. Titanium is nonmagnetic and possesses good heat transfer properties. It has the ability to passivate, thereby giving it a corrosion resistance to acids. It is also nontoxic and biocompatible. These properties make titanium and its alloys useful in a wide range of structural, chemical, petrochemical, marine and biomaterial applications.

The most widely used titanium alloy, Ti-6Al-4V, is present in forty-five percent of industrial applications. The unique combination of this alloy's physical and mechanical properties with workability, fabricability, production experience and commercial availability allows it to be economically useful. Some uses of this alloy are aircraft gas turbine disks and blades, airframe structural components, and prosthetic devices. Ti-6Al-4V has become the standard alloy against which other alloys are compared in the process of selecting a titanium alloy for a specific application.

Titanium also is valued in the petrochemical industry, where it is used in heat exchangers and reactors. The automotive industry uses it in automotive components including connecting rods, valves, and suspension springs. The sporting goods industry uses the metal in the manufacture of bicycles, golf clubs, tennis rackets, and wheelchairs designed for disabled people who want to participate in a sport.

Titanium is used in condensers and turbine blades in electric power plants. It is also incorporated into the architecture of buildings, roofs, piping and cable.

Because of its corrosion resistance, titanium and its alloys are used extensively in prosthetic devices such as artificial heart pumps, pacemaker cases, heart-valve parts and load bearing bone or hip-joint replacements or bone splints. Human body fluids are essentially chloride brines with pH values ranging from 7.4 into the acidic range and also contain a variety of organic acids and other media, to which titanium is totally immune.

Since titanium does not become magnetized, it is used in the structural parts surrounding computer components such as disk drives and microchips, which can be ruined by stray magnetism.

Other common applications of titanium include shape memory eyeglass frames, watches and jewelry.

So although titanium deposits in the earth's crust are rare, titanium has abundant applications in industry and commercial enterprises. This metal makes white whiter, strengthens buildings, functions in prosthetics, and even increases the performance of sporting equipment to improve a game of golf or tennis.

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