What if the price of titanium suddendely dropped to the same level as aluminium?

part of a jet engine

source « souspression.canalblog.com» for the picture : part of a jet engine.

In a not too distant future, the same could possibly happen with some (presently) very expensive metals, as happened 150 years ago with aluminium after the Hall-Héroult process became fully industrialised. And this possible new revolution could also happen thanks to an electro-chemical process, quite similar to the Hall-Héroult process.

In 1997, searchers at the Cambridge University did find that certain metallic oxides can be reduced by an electrolytic process in a bath of molten salt. This is the case for oxides of tantalum, titanium, tungsten, vanadium and neodymium. All these metals are for the time being only produced through a chemical processes, and thus extremely expensive. Titanium for instance is ten times more expensive than aluminum.


93% of the structure of the SR71 air-craft is in titanium. The Airbus A380 contains 77 tons of it.

The main feature of this recently discovered process is that only the salt has to be in molten form (which only requires +/- 1.000 °C), not the other components of the "bath" such as the oxide and the finished product as is the case in the Hall-Héroult process. It thus requires much less energy, and its global yield is much higher.

Let's concentrate on the titanium. It costs nowadays 50 times more than steel, 10 times more than aluminum. The abovementioned process could decrease its price by a factor of 10.The Metalysis company, located in Sheffield UK works just on that; they are presently at a pre-industrial stage.

Note: it is also in Sheffield that was installed in 1855 the first Bessemer converter, the main tool of a process that enabled for the first time the production of steel at a reasonable cost. This was one of the principal elements of the start of the 'Industrial Revolution' in the 19th century. A good presage?

Aluminium is 66% lighter than steel; titanium 45%. Titanium is thus slightly heavier than aluminium. But it is 2 times stronger on the mechanical point of view: its ultimate tensile strength is 1040 MPa, against 483 MPa for aluminium. Parts made of titanium can thus be much 'slender' than those in aluminium, whilst maintaining the same strength (if what is described above occurs!).
This could again help in reducing the weight of all cars, trains, aircrafts, etc. and thus again contribute to a better usage of the available energy.

Note: for writing this page, we have abundantly draw from a paper published in February 2013 by "The Economist", probably the best information source in the world. Many thanks!