Titanium is one of the most abundant metals in the earth’s crust. However, it was not discovered until 1791, by the clergyman and geology enthusiast William Gregor, in a mine in Cornwall, southern England. Years later, in 1795, the German chemist Martin Heinrich Klaproth baptized it as titanium, taking as his inspiration the titans, deities of Greek mythology.
Properties of titanium
Titanium is often compared to steel because of its hardness and corrosion resistance, but titanium has many other characteristics:
- Titanium is a excellent conductor of heat and electricity.
- It is a non-ferromagnetic metal, that is, it is not attracted by magnets.
- It is a highly malleable material that allows for many configurations.
- It is a hard and light metal, which makes it have a high strength-to-weight ratio. Its weight is 45% less than steel.
- It’s very aesthetically pleasing. Its natural color is silver.
- It can withstand high temperatures, as its melting point is 1668°C and its boiling point is 3287°C.
- As we have mentioned, titanium is very resistant to erosion and atmospheric corrosion. In the presence of oxygen, titanium generates a layer of titanium oxide (TiO2), which is insulating and does not allow corrosive elements to enter the material.
What is titanium used for?
Titanium was not widely used until relatively recent times, as it is not found in a free state in nature. To get it in a pure form, it must be extracted from the various minerals that contain it, which is an expensive and complicated task.
Its first uses were in the military area of the Soviet Union, in the 1950s and 1960s. Later, it began to be used in aviation, both in the USSR and in the United States. It was considered a strategic material during the entire Cold War. In subsequent years, its use gradually spread to other industries.
Titanium can be subjected to various treatments: it can be forged, cast, welded, form part of alloys, etc. This fact, added to its many other characteristics, makes it a perfect metal for use in many industries.
Industrial uses of titanium
Although there are differences between the various types of stainless steel, they all share a number of characteristics:
- Most of the titanium produced worldwide is used in engines and in aeronautics. Due to its light weight, it is often used in the form of alloys (e.g. with aluminium, zirconium or nickel) for various aircraft components, such as rotors, turbines, compressors, exhausts, wings, hot air pipes and hydraulic system components.
- A good part of the titanium ore is refined as titanium dioxide (TiO2), which is used as a whitener for elements such as plastics, toothpastes, paints, paper, etc.
- Because it is compatible with human tissue and is not magnetic, it is widely used in medicine to create prostheses, surgical tools, and dental and orthopedic implants. For these same reasons, body piercings are usually made of titanium.
- It is also used in radioactive waste containers because of its long-term corrosion resistance, as it can stay in good condition for as long as several thousand years.
- As it was at the beginning of its history, titanium is still used in the arms industry, where it is valued for its alloys , which are strong, light, and highly resistant to corrosion and wear.
- In sports, it is highly valued for its lightness and durability. It is commonly used in tennis rackets, cricket helmets, football and baseball helmets, bicycle frames, golf clubs, etc.
- Titanium is also highly valued for its aesthetic use in fields such as jewelry because of its lightness, strength (ideal for make small pieces that will not bend), compatibility with the human body and its silvery color when in its pure state.
These are just a few examples, but titanium has many more uses in other areas, such as in the energy, automotive, construction, decorative and high-tech industries.