In ancient Greek myth, the Titans were the first gods, giants born of Mother Earth and Father Sky. They were giants of incredible power. Those extraordinary stories inspired Prussian scientist Martin Heinrich Klapoth in 1795 to use their name for the 22nd element in the periodic table: Titanium.
The ninth most common element in the earth’s crust, titanium is a low-density, high-strength transition metal that in very resistant to corrosion and can be combined with a variety of other metals to create incredibly strong, lightweight alloys. From spacecraft to toothbrushes, titanium is all around us, and POSCO is a significant player in this exciting field. Let’s take an in-depth look at this extraordinary element.
Not-So-Heavy Metal That Really Rocks
As the ninth most abundant mineral on Earth, titanium can be found nearly everywhere, and is almost always present in igneous rocks and sediment. But refining it proved difficult. Although first identified at the end of the 18th century, pure metal titanium wasn’t extracted until 1910, and commercial production required another 30 years.
Hard, light and resistant to corrosion, titanium is incredibly useful. It is 43 percent lighter than steel and twice as strong as aluminum alloys. But because it is difficult to manufacture, titanium is also expensive.
All told, the world consumes about 17 million tons of titanium each year. About 70 percent of that is used by just the United States, England, Japan, China and Korea. Before POSCO added titanium to its manufacturing capacity, Korea had to rely on imports.
POSCO decided to enter titanium production in 2008. By 2009 it was developing titanium products, and the following year it began commercial production and merchandizing. Business steadily grew, and by May 2015 POSCO had sold 10,000 tons of titanium.
Titanium’s Larger-than-Life Applications
When titanium first entered commercial production in the 1950s, it was only used in aviation, space and munitions. But as titanium manufacturing has progressed, titanium has expanded its uses into many other fields—shipbuilding, nuclear energy, automobiles all use titanium, as do golf clubs, hiking gear, kitchenware and cosmetics.
Today, the airline industry is a major user of titanium, as the element’s light weight and strength are two traits vital for airplanes. A single Boeing 777, for instance, uses 59 tons of titanium, while a Boeing 747 uses 45 tons and an A340 Airbus needs 32 tons. Missiles, armored carriers and spacecraft are also significant consumers of titanium.
Because titanium is so corrosion resistance, many oceanic vessels and seas-related facilities use it, too. Ships, submarines and offshore vessels all frequently use titanium, as do desalination plants.
But perhaps one of the newest and most impressive uses of titanium is as a building material. The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain has amazed tourists and architecture fans since the museum opened in 1997, with its unusual curved, corners and angles, all covered with titanium.
Titanium in Our Lives
Titanium has another important feature—it does not react with our bodies, making it safe for human use, like for implants, artificial joints, artificial hearts and more.
But titanium also is used for many more basic items from our day-to-day lives. Its strength makes it good for golf clubs or even bicycle seats. It is also good for camping equipment, leisure equipment and kitchen utensils.
One of titanium’s most common uses is actually rather mundane, acting as a whitening agent through the compound titanium dioxide (TiO2). Titanium dioxide creates one of the whitest whites known, and is used in paints, toothpaste, paper, ceramics, textiles and more. It’s even used in sunscreens because, in addition to being white, titanium dioxide is a good reflector of infrared radiation.
Large and Small, Titanium Has Great Potential
In short, the strength and lightness of titanium make it a truly special material, one that has enhanced our dreams and what humanity can accomplish. From the extraordinary to our daily lives, titanium has transformed what humanity can accomplish, and POSCO, as a significant manufacturer, is excited about where the power and potential of titanium might take us next.