Titanium often ranks as the engineer's first choice as a structural material for jet aircraft, racecars, oil-drilling equipment or prosthetic body implants. And it's little wonder: titanium alloys are light and strong, as well as heat- and corrosion-resistant. The silvery-gray metal is pricey, however, compared with stainless steel and aluminum, a fact that limits its use. Scarcity is not the issue--titanium is the ninth most common element on earth--but the high cost of wresting the pure metal from the ore translates into expensive products.
This past March the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) tapped three materials research groups to address this persistent problem. Agency managers awarded separate contracts totaling $5 million to Titanium Metals Corporation (TIMET) and two others to fund parallel efforts to develop potentially low-cost production routes for titanium and its alloys.
This article was originally published with the title Alchemy of a Supermetal.