Titanium is a mineral that is essential to the functioning of modern economies. It has high strength-to-weight ratio and corrosion resistance, making it and its alloys widely used in the aerospace and shielding industries, as well as for biological implants and consumer goods.
Top-5 countries producing the largest volume of titanium minerals are China, South Africa, Australia, Canada and Mozambique. China dominates the market producing 2 times more than South Africa.
Titanium is the fourth most abundant structural metal in the earth’s crust, but its cost of production is still too high and it prevents titanium from reaching its full potential and extensive use in our lives and industries. The reason for the high price of titanium is that it requires a huge amount of electricity for electrolysis of magnesium chloride generated when refining the titanium ore and because it is necessary to shield the substance used for refining from the atmosphere for batch processing. This way it only increases CO2 emissions. Moreover, existing technologies of titanium production, for example, the Kroll process, require hazardous chemicals. Though, this resulted in enormous research and development activities to find new methods to produce high-purity titanium powder economically and eco-friendly.
On the other hand, titanium definitely has properties which make it environmentally safe and sustainable when we talk about our everyday lives.
To start with, Ti is light and strong. This is a well-known fact, and the most well-known thought when talking about the environment is that using it for producing sea vessels, air, space and ground vehicles will make them fuel efficient.
Titanium improves plant performance. It is something we rarely hear of, but it is observed that Ti enhances plant growth and an inherent constituent of the ash from all plants. Ti actively participates in plant metabolism as a redox catalyst.
What we do hear of and where we can make a great impact is plastic pollution. Titanium is a great replacement for plastic. There are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic waste estimated to be in our oceans and plastic straws, for example, make a large contribution to these numbers. The same goes for plastic bottles. And it is not only about ocean pollution, it is also about creating a great amount of carbon emissions during the process of plastic production. In these terms, non-rusting, reusable titanium straws and bottles make a great eco-friendly gear.
There we face another nice property of titanium: it is strong, durable and time-proof. Under normal conditions it can be used for a very long time which means you don’t need to buy a replacement every once in a while. Using long-lasting products, like titanium flatware, mugs and camping accessories means sustainable and conscious consumption which contributes greatly to the environment's wellbeing.
Ti is also used to help address air pollution in the other way: special titanium dioxide particles used in coatings can be activated by light to neutralize air pollutants.
Titanium is recyclable and it is one of the most beneficial metals to recycle because it can be reused again and again with virtually no loss of quality. It is cheaper and less environmentally dangerous to recycle titanium components into new materials than it is to mine fresh titanium from the earth. And because titanium can be reused almost infinitely, that benefit grows every time a titanium product is recycled.
So, talking about the environmental impact of titanium we can say that it is significant in both good and bad ways. But where negative impact is about to be reduced due to new methods and technologies, the positive impact of titanium is undeniable. Not all of it is evident unless you dig into the theme a little bit, but at least, replacing all of our plastic gear to titanium one is something everyone can do.