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Scientists open door to low-cost titanium

Oak Ridge National Laboratory uses titanium powders for lightweight, corrosion-resistant, bulletproof alloys in military armor and commercial applications.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are using low-cost titanium powders to develop lightweight, corrosion-resistant, bulletproof alloys for military vehicles and what they hope to be other military and commercial applications.

The latest project is a titanium door for the next-generation Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, which is meant to replace the Humvee and other front-line conveyances.

"By using a titanium alloy for the door, BAE Systems was able to reduce the weight of its vehicle yet at the same time decrease the threat of armor-piercing rounds," said Bill Peter, a researcher in ORNL's Materials Science and Technology Division (PDF).

Titanium is the fourth most common structural metal around. There's more of it in the Earth's crust than all the nickel, copper, chromium, lead, tin, and zinc combined. However, the current multistep, high-temperature batch process method for refining the ore into metal is extremely expensive.

There's a push to change that. The new nonmelt processing technique employed by ORNL and partners could cut costs by up to 50 percent, making it feasible to use titanium alloys for brake rotors, artificial joint replacements, and armor and other defense applications, according to ORNL.

One of those partners is International Titanium Powders, a company that wants to use something called the Armstrong Process to produce titanium and titanium alloys at a cost and quantity it believes will radically change the market (PDF).

"Instead of using conventional melt processing to produce products from titanium powder, with the new method, the powders remain in their solid form during the entire procedure," Peter said. "This saves a tremendous amount of energy required for processing, greatly reduces the amount of scrap, and allows for new alloys and engineered composites."

Saving money on bulletproof doors is a start; now maybe they can find a cheaper way to make the Pentagon's gold-plated toilet seats.

Army Research Laboratory