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What Are the Properties of Titanium?

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  • Written By: Ray Hawk
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 13 November 2016
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The primary physical properties of titanium as a metallic chemical element include its non-magnetic property, low density, and tough strength-to-weight ratio. It was first discovered in England in 1791 by Reverend William Gregor, who was also a minerologist, who originally named the metal manaccanite after the parish of Mannaccan in Cornwall, England, where he discovered it. Titanium ore is common in the Earth's crust in minerals such as ilmenite or iron titanate, FeTiO3, and rutile, more commonly known as titanium dioxide, TiO2.

Chemical properties of titanium include its corrosion-resistant nature that makes it suitable for medical instruments, since it does not interact chemically with human tissues. Its resistance to many forms of acid make it useful in industrial applications where caustic chemicals are processed. Titanium is also one of the few elements that can burn in the absence of oxygen. In a pure nitrogen atmosphere, it will react at a temperature of 1,470° Fahrenheit (800° Celsius) to form titanium nitride, TiN.

Titanium dioxide is a widely used compound of the metal, applied as a form of pigment in paints, sunblock lotion, and food colorings. The overwhelming bulk of titanium ore that is mined worldwide is converted into a pure form of TiO2, while the rest is alloyed with metals such as vanadium and aluminum for use in structural surfaces, where it weighs 40% less than carbon-strengthened steel.

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The oxide mineral properties of titanium compounds led to purification difficulties after its discovery. Pure titanium at a level of 99.9% of the metal wasn't isolated until 119 years later by Matthew Hunter in 1910, a metallurgist from New Zealand who named the purification method the Hunter process. Additional methods of purification of the metal were discovered in 1936, and, by 1948, worldwide production of it had climbed to three tons per year. This number was soon to skyrocket due to unique properties of titanium, and 2011 global production is estimated at 223,000 metric tons.

The strong mechanical properties of titanium make it essential in aircraft airframe structures that make extensive use of the metal, and, as of 2006, aircraft manufacturing saw global prices for titanium begin to rise rapidly. This is in part due to the fact that it is expensive to purify the metal, and it costs five times more than aluminum to refine. The cost is 10 times more to create titanium metal ingots and finished metal products than aluminum. The world market demand for pure titanium is 10,000 times smaller than that of the steel market as well, which contributes to price fluctuations. As of 2005, the nations gearing up to be the top titanium refiners were Japan and China, followed closely by Russia and the United States.

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