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Research aims to make titanium an affordable alternative to steel

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Titanium is as strong as many steels, yet 45% lighter. It can be used to make exhaust systems, engine valves and other automotive parts that will last a vehicle's lifetime. Now, a team of university researchers is testing some made-in-Canada technologies that could make this high-priced metal an affordable alternative to steel.

This four-year Automotive Partnership Canada project is the brainchild of two Ontario companies: Kingston Process Metallurgy of Kingston and Wescast Industries Inc. of Brantford. The goal is to develop and test new and cheaper titanium products using cost-effective powder metallurgy—a process of blending fine-powdered materials and fabricating intricate components.

Titanium is already the metal of choice in the aerospace and medical industries. This "super metal" is strong, lightweight, anti-corrosive, and perhaps most importantly, it can withstand elevated temperatures. For automakers, that means engines can operate at higher revolutions per minute to provide better performance and lighter engines, which results in higher fuel efficiency.

But titanium's high cost has limited its use in the cost-conscious automotive sector. In this project, the industry partners are collaborating with university researchers from Nova Scotia and Ontario to develop and test new processes that could make it easier to produce titanium powder and create finished parts—putting its price on par with wrought and cast products.

The companies expect to have functional prototypes of various powders ready for pilot-scale testing within four years, with a scale-up to commercial production within five to 10 years. Read more...