Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Titanium for offsets?

Time: 11.26 AM IST
April 5, 2011
Neelam Mathews

As the government looks at announcing more clauses to its defense offsets policy this summer, expected to  now include transfer of technology, OEMs could be looking at titanium as a way of meeting the country's obligatory offset requirements. With civil aviation included under the defense offsets umbrella and new gen aircraft like the Boeing 787 requiring lighter metals, this might prove to be a winner, officials say.

While there are efforts in this direction already, (http://aerospacediary.blogspot.com/2010/12/titanium-supply-could-become-part-of.html), India remains a slow starter. 

India is estimated to import around 60,000 tons of titanium dioxide every year. Interestingly during question hour in parliament last year, one of the reasons for the delay in developing the Kaveri engine for the LCA was attributed to the  non-availability of critical materials, such as  nickel and titanium based alloys in the country.

For the past few years, interest from foreign suppliers has been apparent. For instance, a U.S Aerospace Supplier Development Mission to India in 2009 was accompanied by companies manufacturing parts from forgeable alloys including titanium. In 2007, Boeing BDS too, had seriously looked at it as an option.

Last year, EADS entered into a cooperation agreement with Norsk Titanium Components for titanium manufacturing for the development of near net shape plasma-based layer manufacturing technologies for aerospace, defense and space applications. it is likely they may want the enter the space.

India has the third largest deposits of titanium in the world, distributed primarily along the coast of southern peninsula. Despite this, it meets its demand for titanium from imports. It exports huge quantities of beach sand which contain monazite and ilmenite, two key raw materials for production of titanium, as the country doesn't have the technology to commercially produce titanium.
But issues remain. “Smelting requires high power consumption, and it needs to be seen if the end product justifies the costs,” says an OEM.

The main production process for titanium metal is known as the Kroll Process. In this, the main ore, rutile, is treated with chlorine gas to produce titanium tetrachloride. This is then purified and reduced to a metallic titanium sponge by reaction with magnesium or sodium. The titanium sponge then undergoes an alloying and melting process. The process is a costly one.

Indian state-owned aluminium producer, Nalco, recently moved into the titanium space following a joint venture (JV) with Indian Rare Earths, another government owned public sector unit involved in mining.

The JV is expected to make value-added products from beach sand minerals  - the key raw material needed to make titanium in the eastern state of Orissa..

Last November, the state of Andhra Pradesh offered land to Tata Steel for setting up its titanium refinery in the state. Among possible locations on offer were Visakhapatnam and north coastal Andhra districts of Vizianagaram and Srikakulam,

Recently, A K Antony, Union Defense Minister inaugurated the 500 ton capacity Titanium Sponge Plant at Chavara near Kollam in Kerala. The plant, at the Kerala Minerals and Metals Limited (KMML)will produce premium quality titanium metal, in the form of sponge, says DRDO. The technology was developed by the Defense Metallurgical Research Laboratory, (DMRL) Hyderabad and, the project is being financed by Vikram Sarabhai Space Center (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram, the main consumer of titanium sponge.

Titanium and its alloys are used in strategic fields like aerospace, armor plating, shipbuilding, missiles and nuclear power plants. They possess high corrosion, crack and fatigue resistance, high strength-to-weight ratio, and the ability to withstand moderately high temperatures.

India has the third largest deposits of titanium in the world, distributed primarily along the coast of southern peninsula.  Mining of the ore and its conversion to pigment grade titanium dioxide on commercial scale was already being done at KMML. The new technology developed and provided by DMRL to KMML would convert titanium dioxide to pure titanium sponge and thus complete the ore-to-product processing of titanium.  India would now join the select group of nations like the US, China, Japan and the UK having the technology for industrial scale production of titanium.

Titanium is often dubbed as the steel of the future, it is light and corrosion-resistant, and is used as an alloying agent in sectors of high growth like space, nuclear, aviation and automobile sectors as well as in computers and mobile phones.

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