Titanium is the 9th most available abundant metal extracted from the minerals Rutile and ilmenite which make up 24% of the Earth’s crust. The term titanium is said to have originated from ancient Greek mythology – the Earth giants named titans (meaning extremely strong). Titanium was first accidentally discovered by geologist Rev. William Gregor in 1791, when he found a substance composed of magnetite, iron oxide, and a kind of metal in the creek bed.
Later, in 1795, while studying an ore, the German scientist Martin Heinrich Klaproth found it had a new metal and named it titanium then connected it to the discovery made by Gregor. It was in the year 1946 that titanium became an industrially viable product. Since then, this metal has been widely used in various fields like electrical power, architecture, aerospace and civil engineering.
Titanium Production Method
This silvery-white metal is extracted from its ore—rutile sand—by a process called the “Kroll Process”. In this process, the ore is made to produce titanium oxide which is oxidized to produce titanium tetrachloride. The product is mixed with magnesium to reduce into titanium 3 and 2 in a sponge form which on further purification produces pure titanium. The sponge form can is sent into a vacuum melting furnace to produce slabs which then can be rolled out as sheets, plates, or rods.
Titanium is costly as it is usually bonded with some other elements hence needs to be separated from it to start the process. It also reacts differently with different compounds so handling and supervision while production of titanium is crucial. Every stage requires a different way of handling the metal.
The labour and energy that goes into the process spike up the price. Its high melting point though is an advantage as a finished product it toughens the process of converting it from an ore to metal as it requires more heat to melt.
Why is Titanium considered a Sustainable Material?
Titanium is known for being highly resistant to corrosion and temperature, high strength, and lightweight (it is 60% of the density of iron). Its elasticity and low thermal expansion equals 50% that of stainless steel. These are the properties for which titanium stands out from other metals but there are also properties that make it commendable like, high resistance to minerals, chlorides, acids, and electricity conduction, high melting point, and better heat transfer.
Titanium is an eco-friendly material as it is relatively inert and has recyclable property. Like several other sustainable materials in the market whose initial costs are high that people often miss seeing the benefits in the long run, titanium is no exception. Its high thermal conductivity helps in creating buildings that are energy efficient. It is also bio-compatible to human bones and tissues. Its long life and its ability to not corrode thus leach ions into the ground makes it by far the best metal from a green building rules perspective.
Titanium in Architecture
Ease of fabrication as it is light in weight, its self-healing property when exposed to moisture or air is due to its highly reactive and affinity to oxygen. It is used in various finishes like brushed, smooth, textured, with different reflectivity and highly polished mirror version.
Titanium is mainly used in its natural appearance but in some cases where a can in colour is preferred that is made possible by anodizing it. It is a better choice of material in seismic-prone areas such as earthquakes for its shock-resisting nature. As it can resist seawater it is better for coastal areas.
Titanium is widely found in buildings roofs, exterior cladding material, or sometimes an entire structure. It is not predominantly used mainly because of its high cost. Though titanium has its advantages it does have a serious disadvantage stopping it from being a structural member. But a lot of research is underway to develop this eco-friendly material.
Below is a listing of some built examples that already exist:
1. Façade of Guggenheim Museum
It was only in 1990 titanium came into architecture. Frank Ghery used a titanium coat in his façade of the Guhennium museum that has become his signature work in his career. The side facing the river was coated with a titanium alloy and zinc of thickness 0.3mm.
Apart from the fact that titanium is durable and resilient, it was used as a façade cladding material for its hazy appearance that differs from other metals like steel and aluminium.
2. Fuji Television Headquarters – Titanium roll dust cladding
A building designed by renowned architect Kenzo Tange is known for its bizarre structure of 2 towers of 25 storey. The centre of the building consists of a giant ball made of titanium silver of 35 meters in diameter and weighs 1350 tons.
3. Senso-Ji temple of Japan – Titanium roof
This temple in Japan is a blend of tradition and cutting-edge technology, as the gigantic roof weighing 180 metric tons is completely made up of titanium panels which were initially of weight 930 metric tons of Japanese traditional tiles, and the ridge end tiles were also of titanium.
Here are the other forms of Titanium consumption:
It is said that a nano-coating that contains titanium is to be used in self-cleansing buildings in the future. It is also said that the nanoparticles in titanium di-oxide can reduce air pollution and when it absorbs sun rays the radicals that a given out decomposes organic materials it is also the best semiconductor for storing solar energy and conversion of chemicals.
Titanium and its alloys
It is used majorly in curtain walls, interior décor, sculpting, soffits, and light fixtures. There are grades in titanium alloys that are used for different purposes. Grade 5 titanium being the most common that is used for aerospace and marine application, grade 9 is similar to that of grade 5 just differs slightly in strength.
The world currently needs a revolution to help humankind lead a better life coexisting with nature and without depleting its resources. Every individual irrespective of their profession or background has the responsibility to take care of mother earth, and as architects, our role is crucial in developing a habitable world that is becoming complicated day by day.
One such shift towards this goal would be the cautious usage of materials, to educate clients, explain the advantages that they get by using sustainable materials. Titanium is one excellent and exquisite material hitherto. Let’s try to make the best use of it.
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