Titanium, since its discovery in the late 1700s, has been something of a wonder metal. A naturally occurring element, it has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any known metal, and while some steel alloys compare in strength, titanium is nearly half as heavy. Titanium is also highly corrosion resistant, making it ideal for use in many applications. Titanium is used in everything from pigments to aerospace materials to medical devices and has garnered a keen interest by the military since the 1950s.
Though the element is incredibly useful, the high cost of producing it has kept it out of general use. In 2006, DuPont and Materials and Electrochemical Research Corporation were awarded $5.7 million by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to engineer new processes to create titanium powder more efficiently.
Now, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has found a way to reduce the cost of creating useful titanium parts even further -- by up to 50%, states a press release at ORNL. Rather than employing a typical melt-type process, the ORNL technique, which is being jointly developed by ORNL, International Titanium Powders, Ametek and BAE Systems, leaves the powder in its solid form and employed roll compaction to produce sheets of metal. Once the sheets are made, extrusion and press and sinter processes can be used to create various forms and parts.
"We recently exhibited the new low-cost titanium alloy door made by ORNL for the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, which is a next-generation combat vehicle. By using a titanium alloy for the door, BAE Systems was able to reduce the weight of its vehicle yet at the same time decrease the threat of armor-piercing rounds," explains Bill Peter, a researcher in ORNL's Materials Science and Technology Division.
Not only will ORNL's fabrication process enable safer and more durable vehicles for military use, medical science will benefit from the lower cost of producing things like joint replacements and dental implants. Vehicles based on titanium rather than steel could have stronger, safer frames while enabling greater fuel efficiency due to reduced weight. This could yield tremendous results when combined with evolving hybrid electric or fuel cell-powered consumer automobiles.