CSIRO puts titanium on the agenda
Titanium is in high demand in the high-tech medical and aerospace sectors because it is strong, light, resistant to corrosion and biocompatible.
However, high metal and manufacturing costs have limited its wider application – for example, in lighter, more fuel-efficient cars.
Teams of scientists and engineers around the world are racing to find a cheaper way of making titanium to put it in the same price bracket as high-quality stainless steel and open up lucrative new markets worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
Australia is well positioned to take a lead in the race for a better titanium production process. It has a natural abundance of ilmenite and rutile, the raw materials used to make titanium, strong infrastructure and a focused national light metals research capability, in the form of the Light Metals Flagship.
The Flagship’s Director, Dr Raj Rajakumar, says his team aims to halve the cost of producing titanium components by targeting critical ‘links’ in the titanium metal value chain.
These include improving feedstock quality, finding an alternative to the current costly and slow batch process for making titanium metal and alloys, and making titanium sheet and tube directly from powder.
“We are making good progress in developing alternative processes for metal production based on continuous processing,” Dr Rajakumar says.
“These processes have the capability of producing high-grade titanium metal and alloys, and promise to radically cut production time and costs. Work is also progressing well on the direct fabrication of sheet and componentry based on titanium metal feedstock.”
The Flagship is running a ‘Fundamentals of Titanium’ workshop and industry forum in Melbourne from 12 to 13 April in association with the ITA. Participants have been invited from across the spectrum of industry, research and government. The educational workshop is being led by Stan Seagle, former Vice-President Technology at RMI Titanium and an acknowledged titanium expert.
According to Mr Seagle, the demand for the metal in the US is ‘extremely strong’ and is expected to remain so for the next few years.
“The commercial aerospace market is the strongest driver because of increasing orders for new planes,” he says.
“The newest designs, such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, contain up to 18 per cent titanium – about twice the amount used in previous generation airframes. Exacerbating the current lack of supply is the high demand for titanium as an alloying addition to other metals.”
“A major goal of the ITA is to promote the application of the metal. Education is an important method to achieve this goal.”
- Titanium is in high demand in the high-tech medical and aerospace sectors because it is strong, light, resistant to corrosion and biocompatible
- Teams of scientists and engineers around the world are racing to find a cheaper way of making titanium