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A Cleaner, Cheaper Route to Titanium 335

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the better-stronger-faster dept.
Burlap writes "Using technology developed at MIT, 4-person startup Avanti Metal hopes to reduce the cost of producing Titanium from the current $40 per pound to a mere $3. The article discusses how a special combinations of oxides and electrolysis separates the titanium metal from the Earth's abundant titanium oxide ore."
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A Cleaner, Cheaper Route to Titanium

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  • by layer3switch (783864) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @09:01PM (#15499225)
    http://www.techreview.com/printer_friendly_article .aspx?id=16963 [techreview.com]

    Yeah, the ad... not very helpful.
  • So maybe I should sell my wedding band now, and buy it back in 2010 for a fraction of the price!

    Seriously, though, to read the article, I had to "Copy Link Location" and paste it into the address bar, and it worked.

    Great article, too. I love hearing stuff like this.

    • You actually have a titanium wedding ring? I tried one of those on in the store. It was way too light and kind of felt like plastic. Like something you'd find in a gumball machine. Sorry, only real gold for me. Titanium is great for other things that benefit from being light, like cars, bicycles, and shotguns. Imagine having a car with all the steel parts replaced with titanium. It would be a lot lighter, and you'd get better gas mileage, and no rust.
      • Re:Ad problem. (Score:3, Informative)

        by Namronorman (901664)
        Or eyewear. Titanium: Light, durable, and not too many people that I know of are allergic to it because it's low in allergens. In fact, I wear a pair of DKNY Titanium Frames with "Featherwates" lenses... 0.7 ounces, or roughly 19.84 (ooh spooky) grams!
      • Re:Ad problem. (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Doppler00 (534739)
        Then why not get a ring made out of Tungsten? It's pretty expensive too and twice as dense as gold.
  • I'm surprised (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Watson Ladd (955755) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @09:04PM (#15499240)
    No one found this earlier. The Hall-Heroult Process for aluminium is basically the same,and has been known for well over a century.
    • Re:I'm surprised (Score:5, Insightful)

      by qbwiz (87077) * <john&baumanfamily,com> on Thursday June 08, 2006 @09:30PM (#15499360) Homepage
      I agree, although the temperatures that they say that this process occurs at are almost twice the temperature you need to refine aluminum. That might explain why it was considered practical for aluminum, but not considered for titanium. They did say that they were having problems with heat.
    • Maybe everyone's been looking for a similar process, but only these guys (claim to) have succeeded by setting the right temperature and mixing with the right electrolytes... and probably a lot of very import details that are not in the article.
    • Re:I'm surprised (Score:5, Informative)

      by AtomicBomb (173897) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @09:45PM (#15499431) Homepage
      The concept is not new: basically the same as the Hall cell for aluminium production. But, I believe finding a suitable salt is not that easy. In the case of aluminium, cyrolite is used. In titanium, what's the suitable one? Suppose you mix Ti2O3 with another metal salt, you may get another metal instead of Ti. Needless to say, the whole electrolysis process gets quite messy at 1500+ degC.
    • Re:I'm surprised (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 08, 2006 @10:24PM (#15499586)
      Another cleaner, cheaper route for Titanium production has been developed in Cambridge, UK.

      Reach about the FFC Process for Titanium Extraction [cam.ac.uk].
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 08, 2006 @09:12PM (#15499270)
    Nobody uses the Titanium. Servers just use a MD Pteron if they want price-performance. And Onroe is just around the corner. Even cheaper Titaniums aren't worth the bother. Ntel can't drop the product line as a matter of face, but consumers just aren't buying it.
  • by THotze (5028) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @09:19PM (#15499300) Homepage
    I always love articles like this when they compare the price of MAKING something with the price of SELLING something. Titanium's sold on a market sort of like oil... prices fluctuate based on demand more than they do based on the cost of production.... if the price of titanium is $40 this year, and was half as much last year... last year it was $20, and I'm SURE that people were making a profit selling that, so it was produced for probably a maximum of $15, probably more like $10/lb.

    So yes, this saves money... but it needs to be done in a large scale, 1st. I don't know how they come up with a cost/lb estimate that they consider to be more than VERY ball park estimate... $3 could be $6.

    Its substantial savings, but its not like we're going to be able to start planning our houses with titanium frames in a few years or anything. And that's assuming that demand doesn't keep skyrocketing above supply... in which case we could have the same price (or more!) regardless of how much it costs to produce titanium.

    Tim
    • If, as they say, it can be completed with far fewer messy components, then it is more likely to be approved by a planning council. If that is the case, then there would be more factories built, increasing supply to better meet demand, and reducing the cost of the metal on the spot market accordingly.
    • by diablomonic (754193) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @10:01PM (#15499487)
      I agree on the whole "announce a price when we havent even got a commercial demo plant" thing being stupid, but you seem to have missed something. According to the article, supply of titanium is currently very limited due to environmental concerns, while demand keeps going up (and, although I'm not a metalurgist, is there any reason that titanium couldnt replace steel almost entirely if it was cheap enough? thats a lot of demand!). This removes that supply problem entirely if it works of course.
      • This removes that supply problem entirely if it works of course.

        Let's think of this from a business standpoint: patent the process. Produce titanium in small numbers to prevent market saturation. Charge the same amount as everyone else, but at 10% the production cost. I don't see the savings being passed to the consumer anytime soon.
        • by bigpat (158134) on Friday June 09, 2006 @01:18AM (#15500275)
          Let's think of this from a business standpoint: patent the process. Produce titanium in small numbers to prevent market saturation. Charge the same amount as everyone else, but at 10% the production cost. I don't see the savings being passed to the consumer anytime soon.

          Well the patent holder would want to maximise profit, so will have to produce enough to make it worth while. So, this would increase supply at least somewhat and thus likely decrease prices. And it is very likely that the patent holder would just want to license the process to current companies instead of actually getting capital to start their own plant. So, they would have incentive to license the process to as many companies as possible. At which point it only takes one company to decide that it needs to increase production to increase market share in order to have an effect of lowering prices. Of course, there can always be anti competitive price fixing, but that is illegal and can't go on forever.

        • The company might make more money selling 10 times as much at 1/5 the price.

          Lower profit margin but more profit.

      • by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7@@@cornell...edu> on Thursday June 08, 2006 @10:50PM (#15499717) Homepage
        "and, although I'm not a metalurgist, is there any reason that titanium couldnt replace steel almost entirely if it was cheap enough?"

        In addition to being expensive, titanium is NOT easy to work with.
        • by scheme (19778) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @11:37PM (#15499916)
          In addition to being expensive, titanium is NOT easy to work with.

          Just as an illustration, welding titantium in a normal atmosphere will cause it to become brittle. You need an inert atmosphere (e.g. argon) at the weld point and on the cooling joint to protect it. Any iron or steel contamination will also screw things up.

          • by modecx (130548) on Friday June 09, 2006 @12:35AM (#15500133)
            Just as an iustration, welding titantium in a normal atmosphere will cause it to become brittle. You need an inert atmosphere (e.g. argon) at the weld point and on the cooling joint to protect it.

            You're right, you need a good supply of argon to keep hot titanium from forming oxides or nitrides with atmospheric gas. It's an amazing thing, nearly *all* of the non-aviation titanium welds I've seen were not done right, and they have either an amber tint (not good) or a blue tint (really not good), and often a little rainbow of colors somewhere inbetween. The one exception I've noted is the race car industry. They actually do it right, and lives depend on it, so it's a good thing. The aftermarket parts for cars though? Holy shit, that stuff is ALWAYS FUBAR, and if it were to serve a purpose like strut bars for race/street cars, I imagine they'd crack if they were actually used for a few good hours. The funny thing is that I'm sure they think those colors are pretty!

            Anyway...
      • by big tex (15917) <torsionality&gmail,com> on Thursday June 08, 2006 @11:32PM (#15499895)
        "and, although I'm not a metalurgist, is there any reason that titanium couldnt replace steel almost entirely if it was cheap enough? "

        One word: welding.

        OK, I'm drunk, but bear with me. I weld best this way, so explanations should work as well.
        Welding steel is easy, really easy. It can be done outside, with nothing but a constant-current power source and some flux coated rods (SMAW,or 'stick' welding). This requires a minimal amount of skill. Move on to some better equipment, say wire feeders and constant-voltage machines, and we can weld sheet metal like it's nothing (GMAW) or lay down some structural fill in a hurry (FCAW or SAW). I can teach someone to weld FCAW in a few hours, provided they're smart enough not to burn themselves and not look at the bright lights without a shield.

        Titanium oxidizes like a little bitch. Basically, the largest part of welding technology is creative ways to keep oxygen, hydrogen, and those other things in the air away from the weld puddle. This can be done by flux (SMAW, FCAW, SAW), or by shielding gasses like CO2, Ar, He (GMAW, FCAW, GTAW). The only good way to weld titanium is by using TIG (GTAW). This is the most skilled, labor-intensive, slowest process going. I can lay down steel welds for bridge in pounds per hour, but titanium takes hours per pound.

        Now, more available titanium should lead to a titanium MIG (GMAW) process, but that's still small potatoes compared to SAW, GMAW, and it can't really be done outside. (I don't want to hear about the trailer you welded in your driveway. Try it two stories up in the wind, or on a barge, and we'll talk). To provide another point of reference, the high production and field processes (SAW, FCAW, SMAW) don't work with Aluminum, the 20th century's miracle metal, because they are flux-based and Aluminum doesn't do flux-based, flat out. Titanium will be the same way.

        In summary, titanium is kept in limited used in industry because it's hard to weld, not because it's expensive.
        • by modecx (130548) on Friday June 09, 2006 @01:03AM (#15500230)
          In summary, titanium is kept in limited used in industry because it's hard to weld, not because it's expensive.

          Just wanted to add to all of the great stuff you said by also pointing out that titanium is also a pain to work with in pretty much every other way. It's tough to machine, it's also a bitch to use as sheet metal--it's springy and not as malleable as steel or aluminum at room temperature. You've often got to heat it signifigantly if you need to make tight bends... Plus, all of that is compounded by the alloys of titanium which are even harder to use and form than the pure stuff.

        • This quite possibly the most informative post I have ever read on Slashdot. Seriously.

          Please endeavor to learn other areas of technology so you can continue to inform me.
      • by vijayiyer (728590) on Friday June 09, 2006 @01:48AM (#15500345)
        Titanium, while strong per unit weight, has a relatively low modulus of elasticity, making it "flexible". Thus it is often not well suited to applications requiring high rigidity. Steel is more rigid per unit volume, and aluminum per unit weight.
    • by autophile (640621) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @10:38PM (#15499659)
      Well, according to this US gov't report on titanium prices [usgs.gov], titanium has never been cheaper, and consumption is generally up. I could find any market for titanium futures, BTW. Not COMEX, not FOREX, nothing. I wonder why that is?

      --Rob

  • by Kabuthunk (972557) <<moc.liamtoh> <ta> <knuhtubak>> on Thursday June 08, 2006 @09:22PM (#15499315) Homepage
    Sweet! I'm sure this will likely have a significantly higher impact on pretty much all products as is, but this will affect me in a slightly different way. I'm one of the few that make chainmail as a hobby. Titanium chainmail is significantly lighter, rusts less, etc, etc. Significantly better for metalcraft than stainless steel or galvanized steel or anything like that in my opinion.

    So, having cheaper working materials = excellent for people like me :}
    • Sweet deal, that's what.. +4, +5 against illegal immigrants?

      No, seriously. Who would buy titanium chainmail? Some pretty serious D&Ders in here...

      Oh well, at least it'll drive down the price of the MacBook.
      • I'm guessing it'd be more the Society for Creative Anachronism types. They're sort of like D&Ders, but they skip the dice-throwing but and just hit each other with the swords. I'm sure you can see where chainmail would be useful in this scenario.
        • He sounds like a high tech only geek. I know quite a few people who would love to have a good suit of mail. Many of them are SCA people, but some of them are more like me (I trained martially since I was about 6. Primarily kung fu with cross training in Japanese and European sword arts).

          Doing some of those things makes armor come in really handy on occasion. I'm not a big fan of chain, though. It tends to bind at the shoulders if it's not done well. I perfered a chinese style breastplate and bracers w
    • BWA HA HA HA HA!
      Your puny weapons cannot pierce my titanium exoskeleton!
      Kneel before me!
    • Forgive me for commenting on something I know next to nothing about, but would you actually be able to work with titanium the way you work with whatever you normally use (I assume steel)? I believe Parker (the pen company) had to cancel their titanium pen (the T-1) in the early 1970s because it was too difficult to work with. They only made it for a few months and the surviving ones trade hands for around a thousand bucks these days.
      • For the work he is talking about, yes you can work with titanium in the same way. It can be more difficult work of course, depending on the exact alloy being used. On the softer end of the scale it's quite a bit easier to work with than stainless steel; and though softer alloys are not as strong as heavier alloys, the strength/weight ratio is great and it still has some other very nice properties.
    • You might be able to license that idea to Harry Turtledove for a novel...

      rj
    • Normally I hate getting chain letters, but at $40/lb, it might not be such a bad deal. I'm not worried about bad luck so I'd just sell them when the price is high. Shall I email you my snail-mail address?

      -matthew
    • Chainmail (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Mark_MF-WN (678030) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @10:20PM (#15499574)
      You make chainmail? Truly, a geek among geeks. You ought to be careful -- if the amount of geekosity in a given area of space gets too high, it can collapse into a dork-hole.

      Just jeffin' ya. Sounds like an interesting hobby. Know anyone who makes swords? I've heard that the metallurgy that goes into a modern metal blade is quite impressive, and that modern swords -- despite being made almost entire by hobbyists -- are far superior to the swords of antiquity.

      • modern swords (Score:5, Interesting)

        by bodrell (665409) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @11:27PM (#15499873) Journal
        Know anyone who makes swords? I've heard that the metallurgy that goes into a modern metal blade is quite impressive, and that modern swords -- despite being made almost entire by hobbyists -- are far superior to the swords of antiquity.
        You weren't addressing me, but regardless . . .

        My brother knows one of these modern-day master swordsmakers. One of the new tricks is to use high quality braided cable as a starting material. You flux it or something, then heat and pound. Like starting out with a Damascus or samurai style laminated blade, but woven instead of folded. Sounded pretty cool to me.

        • Re:modern swords (Score:4, Interesting)

          by LordNightwalker (256873) on Friday June 09, 2006 @03:10AM (#15500533)

          Yup, I helped a friend make small strips of that for use in knifemaking. It's relatively easy; all you need is a gas forge (he helped me make mine, there's not much to it actually), an anvil, borax, steel cable, a welding machine and some large forging pliers to hold the hot piece of metal while beating it with a hammer. Oh, and you need a decent hammer too; one with hardened faces; soft ones won't do.

          The process is simple; you tie off one end of the cable with some wire, before the point where it starts to untangle. You then cut off the untangled part relatively close to the point where you tied it off. Then weld the end fixed, so it won't untangle again. Repeat the same process a bit down the cable; how far depends on how long a strip you want to create. You then fire up your gas forge, wait for it to heat up completely, and just put the rod in. Wait untill it glows the right shade of red, take it out of the fire, then either throw borax on it using a large salt-shaker type of thing, or just roll the rod into a large bowl of borax. This will form a layer of borax around the rod. Back into the forge, the borax will seep between the strands of the cable, eating away at the impurities contained within. Repeat this process a couple of times... actually, a lot of times... The borax will drip into your forge, and it will eventually eat through the hull, so you better use one with a decent ceramic coating to prevent or slow down this process. Anyway, after you've repeated this process enough times, it's time to start welding the cable into a proper strip.

          Make sure you wear decent protection, because when you hit that cable with your hammer, borax might shoot out, and hot borax will leave wounds that will ooze puss for days when it hits your bare skin. Even if you don't care about a couple of scars and some temporary discomfort, at least be smart enough to wear eye protection. Great, let's get on with it. Take the rod out of the forge, it's best to work in pairs so one can hold it with the pliers while laying it on the anvil, while the other smashes away at it with the hammer. Start beating it at one end, and do a couple of centimeters at a time. At first your goal is to create a rod with a square cross section; once you have that, you repeat the process, this time flattening it into a strip. Every time the metal cools off (starts glowing dimmer), put it back in the forge, and when it's heated up enough again, repeat the process, but start where you left off, slowly working your way from one end of the rod to the other. You'll notice that the metal will warp under the blows of your hammer; this is perfectly normal. Just turn it around, and you can smash it straight again. First hammer it on four sides to a square cross section, when you've covered the whole rod, repeat but this time beating it only on two sides so you end up with a strip.

          Eventually, you'll end up with a rudimentary strip of cable damascus a couple of millimeters thick. Flatten it with a belt sander or whatever you have at your disposal, cut it into a straight strip, and you have a nice piece of cable damascus for stock removal production of knives (meaning you file the shape of the knife out of the bare strip, leaving the edge about 1mm in thickness, heat treat it, then polish and sharpen it). Of course you don't have to go the stock removal route; if you're more inclined to actually forge your knife/sword out of the rod, then work towards the shape you want for your knife/sword instead of a straight strip, and finish it off by belt sanding it to its final shape, heat treating it, then polishing and sharpening it.

          You can find lots of info on knife/sword forging online if you google around a bit, and there's tons of books written on the subject. I'm just lucky I have a couple of friends who inducted me into this obscure art, though I wish I had more time to actually finish the designs I started... ;)

          For those interested in this kind of stuff, a good starting point might be the knife makers [bladeforums.com] forums on bladeforums [bladeforums.com].

    • by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @11:26PM (#15499867) Journal
      Yep, I've got a friend who makes maille too, says the same thing (unless you're him, K?). I tried to sell him on the idea of Unobtanium, but he said his customers prefer either Titanium or Expensium. Hardtoobtainium is pretty good too, but suffers from consistency of supply issues.
  • Now everyone can own a batmobile! Ok minus the jset engine. On a more serious note it might be nice for laptops, so that they will never break when dropped ever again.
    • Re:Whoo Hoo (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tribbin (565963)
      For the harddrive and other parts not to break, the laptop better have some sort of buffer to break the fall instead.
    • Titanium has been tried for notebook computers. The stuff is hard to form, I think hard to machine, and it's hard to get anything to stick to it. Apple used it for what is now called the "TiBook". It had a colored surface coating to give it the color that people thought titanium had because the real color wasn't as exciting.
  • Oh, cool... (Score:3, Funny)

    by creimer (824291) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @09:31PM (#15499364) Homepage
    Now I can buy the colorful lights for the warp drive engine instead spending all the money on plating the hull with expensive titanium. Warp 1 has never been so cheap!
  • Steel Age (Score:5, Funny)

    by pete-classic (75983) <hutnick@gmail.com> on Thursday June 08, 2006 @09:33PM (#15499374) Homepage Journal
    Thank God! I thought the Steel Age was never going to end!

    -Peter
    • "Thank God! I thought the Steel Age was never going to end!"

      Well, it's not like we were using a good strategy in the first place. Do you realize how many villagers that takes?!
  • I wonder what this will mean for use of titanium in everyday applications. There's a certain cachet to titanium, but its not all that clear that everyday things, such as tools and such actually *need* the special properties of titanium.
  • Your 3 cent Titanium tax goes too far!
  • How is Titanium better than Aluminium?
    • For starters, it has a high strength to weight ratio and has a much higher melting point. It may be more durable from a fatigue perspective.
    • Re:Aluminium? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Deadstick (535032) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @10:05PM (#15499508)
      Twice as strong vs 1.6 times as heavy, higher melting point, better resistance to corrosion and fatigue.

      rj
      • Re:Aluminium? (Score:4, Informative)

        by corngrower (738661) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @10:52PM (#15499732) Journal
        And it maintains it's strength at high temperatures. Steel tends to weaken quite a bit as it gets hot.
        This is why titanium is used in things like the turbine blades of jet engines, and the leading edges of supersonic aircraft.

        About two years ago the folks at Oxford University developed a process for producing the metal from
        its common ore more cheaply that the process commonly in use. I think it's now being tested
        commercially at at least one company here in the U.S. I'ld bet that the MIT process is very
        similar to the one developed at Oxford.

        Titanium oxide is commonly used as a white pigment for paints.
    • by th77 (515478)
      I think Bender put it best [things.org]:

      Bender: I'll miss you, Leela. I know you're just a carbon-based
      life-form, but I'll always think of you as a big pile of
      titanium. [Sniffles]
      Fry: What Bender means is, you're really brave, and smart and
      beautiful and a great friend.

    • Re:Aluminium? (Score:3, Informative)

      by r00t (33219)
      Titanium doesn't corrode as much, and it's non-poisonous. It's one of the few things that is safe to implant in a human body. The oxide is use to make foods white.

      Meanwhile, aluminum has issues. At best it makes your soda taste yucky after a while. Maybe it contributes to Altzheimer's disease. If you cook tomatoes in an aluminum pan, you'll get holes in the pan.

      • Re:Aluminium? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bodrell (665409)
        Meanwhile, aluminum has issues. At best it makes your soda taste yucky after a while.

        Sorry, but there's no direct contact between the soda and the metal. The cans are lined with a thin coating of some sort. Otherwise the soda would indeed dissolve the can.

        In case you're doubting, here's the experiment that showed me what's up: Wash two soda cans. Score the inside of one of the cans, just a tiny scratch going all the way around, to penetrate the protective coating. Then fill both cans with an acidic

        • Re:Aluminium? (Score:3, Interesting)

          by r00t (33219)
          You can tear apart an unscored can as if it were paper. They are really thin these days.

          Steel was once used, but we had to switch to aluminum because Coke ate through the steel too fast.
    • Isn't aluminum known for being quite combustible? I seem to recall there being a rather serious "incident" when it turned out that the aluminum hulls on Britain's destroyers would ignite after being hit by torpedoes, resulting in self-sustaining combustion. I could be misremembering though, so don't take my word for it.
    • Re:Aluminium? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Frangible (881728) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @11:17PM (#15499836)
      Several reasons:

      1. Insulation; titanium is less condutive of heat/electricity. This can be a benefit or detriment depending on the application.
      2. Strength; the same amount of Ti/Al alloys to support a specific load can be made with a lighter weight of Ti. An equal volume of Ti is heavier than Al, though.
      3. Fatigue life; titanium, like iron, has infinite fatigue life. Aluminum does not. What this means is you can make a spring from Ti but Al will fail if repeatedly stressed.
      4. Corrosion; titanium is more corrosion resistant than Al because it oxidizes rapidly in contact with air
      5. Social reasons; titanium has significantly more percieved value than Al, moreso than the material differences. Further Ti has a unique color as well.

      Sometimes aluminum will still be better; in many applications the relative strength difference doesn't matter and thus a lighter equivalent volume of Al is advantageous. Also, the high conductivity of Al is a good thing in many situations.

      The most common Ti alloy, Ti-6Al-4V, actually has 6% Al in it.
  • Awesome! (Score:5, Informative)

    by eric434 (161022) * on Thursday June 08, 2006 @09:42PM (#15499416) Homepage
    I took Sadoway's class last year. Awesome guy -- this is right up his alley (making things more environmentally friendly).

    Here's a PDF presentation on the process:
    http://web.mit.edu/dsadoway/www/MOE_Ti.pdf [mit.edu]

    • That's rather interesting. The Lunar mining idea is cool.

      Thanks.

    • Re:Awesome! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hoi Polloi (522990)
      Environmentally friendly isn't just for making tree huggers like me happy, it generally means the elimination of waste, expensive materials, and extra processing that means greater efficiency and lower costs. Chemical plants and foundries are full of nasty processes that can kill or injure employees or even neighbors. Then there are all of old plants that have left toxic swaths of land behind, usually in areas that once were the outskirts of cities but today are smack-dab in the middle of suburbs. The co
  • One of my first jobs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by IamNotAgeek (708764) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @09:45PM (#15499435)
    I worked at a titanium manufacturing plant where I analyzed samples for nitrogen contamination. Even though it was a pretty low level repetitive job, I still felt like a scientist working in a lab wearing a lab coat and the head chemist was a guy from Sweden named Jurgen (?sp). I also remember that the titanium tetrachloride was so volatile that just a spoonfull released into the atmosphere would create a huge white cloud and the fire department would show up and management would have to fill out an incident report. Good memories, except for the time I got hydrofluoric acid on my fingers, very painfull, and of course when I accidently breathed in some vapors and had frequent nosebleeds for several years afterwards.
    • by Beltonius (960316) on Friday June 09, 2006 @07:46AM (#15501077)
      I'm currently working at a company specializing in Ti and Ti alloys/composites.
      I have little to no faith in this actually producing anything substantial within the next several years.

      Why? I have read about this same guy pitching his process for the past several years, and my company has a file on him going back almost a decade; he's been saying his process will yield results 'soon' for far too long for me to readily believe him.

      Last year, even, I read a presentation he gave, and it consisted of little more than a brief high-school chemistry explanation of electrolysis (which is all this is, same process that produces hydrogen and oxygen from water) and stating a hope that they will build an experimental cell soon. Apparently he's gotten that far, but 200 mg aren't going to help much to combat the currently sky-rocketing Ti prices.

      And yes, they are very high right now. Half our work is focused on improving Ti recycling processes so that scrap can be used more widely; the rest of the work is biomedical applications where cost is not an issue.

      The point is: Yes, if this works it could mean a much cheaper/environmentally friendly (I'm a little doubtful of this; yea, there won't be concentrated TiCl or Cl gas lying around, but it's an electrolytic process, it will use lots of electricity, and that will produce extra waste) process. This is a conceptually simple process; basically it requires experimentation to get the parameters right. He has spent very little time actually experimenting.
  • MacBook Pros are going to be cheap!!

    Oh ok I'll take my tablets now...

  • by Zackbass (457384) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @09:52PM (#15499458)
    Looks like Sadoway may just be on his way to that Nobel prize he's been obsessed with. :P

    For those that aren't familiar with MIT's most pimp chem prof you can enjoy a full semester of his lectures right here: http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/Materials-Science-and-En gineering/3-091Fall-2004/LectureNotes/index.htm [mit.edu]
  • by cyfer2000 (548592) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @11:09PM (#15499809) Journal
    Mean while the price of titanium anti-corrosion coating will increase from $3 to $40 per pound.
  • Scotty? (Score:3, Funny)

    by shoolz (752000) on Thursday June 08, 2006 @11:15PM (#15499828) Homepage
    Was it he who dropped this info to the startup? Did he also drop the transparency trick too? Please say yes.
  • Someone more knowledgeable than I am please correct/elaborate, but isn't this essentially the same process that turned aluminum from a rare and barely-usable metal into a ubiquitous industrial material?
    • Re:like aluminum? (Score:3, Informative)

      by Forbman (794277)
      No, what made Aluminum(aluminium) valuable was whoever figured out how to cast it in a mold without leaving the funky wavy lines in the casting where the aluminum didn't "flow" against the mold completely. Before that, it was a curiosity, because all those funky mold defects really weakened it even more.
  • by thesupraman (179040) on Friday June 09, 2006 @01:56AM (#15500362)
    Of course they are carefully looking at the AMERICAN price for titanium production..

    It is much much cheaper in Russia, as it is basically produced as a side effect of steel production there due to the different ores available.
    Most significant titanium users source their titanium from Russia, and there is little interest in other sources as Russia just has the right ores anyway.

    Oh well, good try though.

    • Yeah I remember the soviet-era bartel processes in my country. Hungary would sell bauxit ore to the SU, and receive something else. The explanation was that Hungary didn't have good enough facilities to manage production, but of course the soviets just wanted the titanium in that bauxit.

      On the tangent a bit, the current hungarian PM owns a lot of those bauxit mines - they've been used as a toxic dump since the last decade or so. Shady dealings.
    • > It is much much cheaper in Russia, as it is basically produced as a side effect of
      > steel production there due to the different ores available.

      The cost of the ore is a minor part of the cost of production of titanium metal.

      > Most significant titanium users source their titanium from Russia, and there is little
      > interest in other sources as Russia just has the right ores anyway.

      More likely it's th lack of pollution controls.
  • by Dutchmaan (442553) on Friday June 09, 2006 @02:33AM (#15500439) Homepage
    "Using technology developed at MIT, 4-person startup Avanti Metal hopes to reduce the cost of producing Titanium from the current $40 per pound to a mere $3."

    What business people read:

    "Using technology developed at MIT, 4-person startup Avanti Metal hopes to increase the profit of producing Titanium by $37 a pound!"
  • by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Friday June 09, 2006 @07:31AM (#15501040)
    Um, no. These guys should have talked to a mechanucal engineer, or metallurgist before going off on this quest for cheqaper titanium.

    The cost of producing Titanium isnt even the 5th most prominent reason that it's not used more. Here's a few more significant reasons:

    • Steel is about $40 a ton, and can be blended and treated for a wide range of strengths, flexibility, ductility, and other desireable properties. Titanium costs 100 to 1000 times more, and isnt as versatile.
    • Steel and other metals can be heated up, hammered, forged, drilled, milled, scarfed, ground, chamfered, put through dies, bent, hammered, case-hardened, sputtered, peened, and plated. Over and over again. Titanium doesnt like most of those processing steps.
    • Most metals gladly alloy themselves with various useful elements, such as copper, molybendum, chrome, carbon, etc, to improve their strength, ductility, or springyness. Titanium doesnt.
    • Most metals tolerate a little variation in processing time, temperatures and rates of change. Titanium doesnt.
    • Most metals can tolerate being splashed with various environmental contaminants, like water, road salt, acid rain, paints, glues, waxes, etc. Titanium is so sensitive to contaminants, just *touching* a titanium bolt with a chrome or cadmium-plated wrench is enough to make the bolt very brittle! Just writing on a titanium sheet with a (horrors!) felt-tip marker is enough to embrittle the sheet.

    given the choice of using steel or aluminum, versus using titanium at 100x the cost, 10x the likelyhood of the part breaking if touched by the wrong stuff, most engineers will go with anything but titanium.

    • Unless they work in the aerospace industry, in which case every extra pound of airframe weight costs $500 to $1000 a year to lug around for the rest of the airplane's service life (up to 40 years), about the same cost increase for spacecraft expect with those you pay in one lump sum at launch time. Still, titanium use is limited by cost and supply, though by limited I mean about >10% by weight of the upcoming Boeing 787, slightly less (by percent weight) in an Airbus A380.

      A titanium part that is built

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