Alloy Wire and Bar Drawing Experts
was discovered as an
inclusion of a mineral in Cornwall, Great Britain, in 1791 by the
clergyman and amateur geologist William Gregor, then vicar of Creed
parish. He recognized the presence of a new element in ilmenite when he
found black sand by a stream in the nearby parish of Manaccan and
noticed the sand was attracted by a magnet. Analyzing the sand, he
determined the presence of two metal oxides: iron oxide (explaining the
attraction to the magnet) and 45.25% of a white metallic oxide he could
not identify. Realizing that the unidentified oxide contained a metal
that did not match any known element, Gregor reported his findings to
the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall and in the German science
journal Crell's Annalen.
Around the same time, Franz-Joseph Müller von Reichenstein produced a similar substance, but could not identify it. The oxide was independently rediscovered in 1795 by Prussian chemist Martin Heinrich Klaproth in rutile from Boinik (German name of unknown place) village of Hungary (now in Slovakia). Klaproth found that it contained a new element and named it for the Titans of Greek mythology. After hearing about Gregor's earlier discovery, he obtained a sample of manaccanite and confirmed it contained titanium.
The currently known processes for extracting titanium from its various ores are laborious and costly; it is not possible to reduce the ore by heating with carbon (as in iron smelting) because titanium combines with the carbon to produce titanium carbide. Pure metallic titanium (99.9%) was first prepared in 1910 by Matthew A. Hunter at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute by heating TiCl4 with sodium at 700–800 °C under great pressure in a batch process known as the Hunter process. Titanium metal was not used outside the laboratory until 1932 when William Justin Kroll proved that it could be produced by reducing titanium tetrachloride (TiCl4) with calcium. Eight years later he refined this process with magnesium and even sodium in what became known as the Kroll process. Although research continues into more efficient and cheaper processes (e.g., FFC Cambridge, Armstrong), the Kroll process is still used for commercial production.
Titanium sponge, made by the Kroll process
Titanium of very high purity was made in small quantities when Anton Eduard van Arkel and Jan Hendrik de Boer discovered the iodide, or crystal bar, process in 1925, by reacting with iodine and decomposing the formed vapors over a hot filament to pure metal.
In the 1950s and 1960s the Soviet Union pioneered the use of titanium in military and submarine applications (Alfa class and Mike class) as part of programs related to the Cold War. Starting in the early 1950s, titanium came into use extensively in military aviation, particularly in high-performance jets, starting with aircraft such as the F100 Super Sabre and Lockheed A-12 and SR-71.
Recognizing the strategic importance of titanium the U.S. Department of Defense supported early efforts of commercialization.
Throughout the period of the Cold War, titanium was considered a strategic material by the U.S. government, and a large stockpile of titanium sponge was maintained by the Defense National Stockpile Center, which was finally depleted in the 2000s. According to 2006 data, the world's largest producer, Russian-based VSMPO-Avisma, was estimated to account for about 29% of the world market share. As of 2015, titanium sponge metal was produced in six countries: China, Japan, Russia, Kazakhstan, the USA, Ukraine and India. (in order of output). In 2006, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded $5.7 million to a two-company consortium to develop a new process for making titanium metal powder. Under heat and pressure, the powder can be used to create strong, lightweight items ranging from armor plating to components for the aerospace, transport, and chemical processing industries.