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Why titanium is so expensive ?


Titanium is an exceptional metal in almost every way: expensive and energy-inten-sive to produce, highly reactive and uniquely corrosion-resistant. This article shows the characteristics of this metal and provides a summary of some of the leading titanium alloys, including the remarkable shape memory alloys, which can "remember" their original shape.

Obtaining titanium from ore

Titanium is a remarkable, very light metal with a silvery colour and is the fourth most abundant element in the earth's crust. We may therefore ask the question, why is this metal so expensive? To a great extent, the answer lies in the costs involved in obtaining it.

As a rule, all ignoble metals are extracted as a metal oxide. The lower the position of the standard potential of the metal in the nobility table, the more difficult it becomes to separate the metal from the bound oxygen. Iron has a potential of -0.44 volts and can be quite easily separated from the bound oxygen. This can be represented by the reduction formula 2FeO + C + e → 2Fe + CO2. This reaction takes place in a blast furnace, and the "e" in the formula stands for the energy that needs to be added to make this reduction possible. If one adapts this mechanism to titanium oxide, also called rutile, nothing happens, since titanium oxide must be treated very differently in order to separate these two strongly bound elements. Thi process is as follows:

1. Rutile (TiO2) is chlorinated with cokes to produce titanium tetrachloride (TiCl4) AND CARBON DIOXIDE (CO2). Titanium tetrachloride is a colourless liquid that remains to be refined.

2. Magnesium or sodium is added to the titanium tetrachloride in an inert environment.

3. This produces the chemical reaction TiCl4 +2Mg   Ti+2MgCl2. Finally, we obtain titanium sponge and magnesium chloride.

4. The titanium sponge is pressed into blocks and melted under inert gas to form ingots, to which alloy elements and scrap may be added. These ingots are then rolled to produce all kinds of half-finished products such as sheets or rods.

It will by now be clear that it takes a lot of energy to win titanium from its ore. This has to do with the fact that it takes a lot of energy to prepare magnesium or sodium. Therefore a large part of the price of titanium is determined by energy prices.