Titanium is the ninth most abundant element, making up about 0.6% of the Earth's crust. It occurs in nature only in chemical combination, usually with oxygen and iron. Because of the high strength-to-weight ratio of its alloys and their resistance to corrosion, titanium metal is an important strategic and critical material and is used widely for high-performance military and civilian aircraft in both engines and airframes.
Mineral sources for titanium are rutile, ilmenite, and leucoxene, an alteration product of ilmenite. Rutile is 93% to 96% titanium oxide (TiO2), ilmenite may contain between 44% and 70% TiO2, and leucoxene concentrates may contain up to 90% TiO2. In addition, a high-TiO2 slag is produced from ilmenite in Canada, Norway, and the Republic of South Africa that contains 75% to 85% TiO2.
Only about 5% of the world's annual production of titanium minerals goes to make titanium metal. The other 95% of such production is used primarily to make white TiO2 pigment. Because of its whiteness, high refractive index, and resulting light- scattering ability, TiO2 is the predominant white pigment for paints, paper, plastics, rubber, and various other materials.
The United States has become highly dependent on imports of the minerals used to make titanium and TiO2, which primarily comes from Australia and Canada. In 1980, ilmenite import reliance, including high-TiO2 slag made from ilmenite, was 35% but increased to about 80% in the 1982-84 period because of cessation of production at two U.S. ilmenite mines. Ilmenite import reliance through 1990 has generally been in the 70% to 80% range. Import reliance for rutile declined from about 90% in 1980 to about 60% in 1983, and, in later years, it has remained in the 60% to 70% range because of increased production of synthetic rutile. However, this decline was at the expense of increased import reliance for ilmenite, because domestic synthetic rutile was made from imported ilmenite.
A major problem affecting the titanium metal industry is the wide fluctuations on demand caused by changes in requirements for both military and commercial aircraft programs. Titanium sponge producers have repeatedly increased capacity in response to anticipated demand and have then been left with excess capacity when these programs were canceled or cut back. The most recent example of such a fluctuation was the historic peak in demand and price reached in 1980-81 and the subsequent collapse in 1982-84. The sharp rise and fall of demand and prices were believed to be aggravated by overestimation of aircraft orders that did not materialize or were later canceled.
- Table 1.--U.S. production of titanium materials
- Table 2.--U.S. shipments of titanium materials
- Table 3.--U.S. consumption of titanium materials
- Table 4.--U.S. distribution of domestic titanium pigment shipments, titanium dioxide content, by industry
- Table 5.--U.S. exports of titanium
- Table 6.--U.S. imports for consumption of titanium
- Table 7.--Yearend stocks of titanium metal (sponge)
- Table 8.--Yearend prices of titanium concentrates and products
- Table 9.--Titanium: world production of concentrates (ilmenite, leucoxene, rutile, and titaniferous slag), by country
- Table 10.--Yearend stocks of titanium concentrates and pigment in the United States