Titanium: A Star is Born
In an age where hydrocarbons still reign supreme, Titanium is finally starting its ascent to a higher orbit around the Technological Sphere, where it will certainly offer us much better views of what the world could actually be, as opposed to what it is at present.
Even though Titanium is the 7th most common element on earth, and is found in everything from reflective paint to orbital satellites, it’s still a long way from being a common household name though. Fortunately, a steady succession of exciting new developments in key areas such as Metallurgy, NanoTech, BioTech, and Environmental & Health Sciences, and even Hydrogen production means that Titanium isn’t going to be dutifully playing the humble part of the unsung hero for very much longer now…
In fact, Titanium (either it’s Oxides or ductile metallic forms) are now poised to far surpass their already enormous roles in countless current technologies and applications (which we’ve already looked at if you’re curious), and start rocketing Humanity into some truly exciting new areas via emerging technologies and revolutionary industrial applications that promise exciting new sources of clean energy, as well as pollution controlling methods for the old ones.
The only remaining question isn’t ‘how’ or ‘when’ we’re going to see genuine signs of Titanium-based progress gaining mainstream visibility, but rather, just how far will Titanium take us into a clearly visible Future which is imminently ready to become our new current Reality!
So where else can Titanium take us?
First of all, Titanium has historically been an expensive material to produce. Ongoing efforts to replace the rather costly Kroll process (for reducing raw Titanium to its metallic form) have now resulted in a very recently commercialized and accelerative new reduction method called the FFC Cambridge process. This breakthrough promises to “reduce” the cost of processing metallic Titanium by 25-50% and literally turn this once exotic and expensive metal into a common material for strong, light, and durable new Consumer products – rather than only reserving it for the most specialized aerospace and sporting applications. Yet this is only the very beginning of Titanium’s brilliant new and futuristic roles, so let’s move onto the event horizon, where the Future of Titanium awaits our arrival.
- Used as a material in working prototypes of the Memristor, a new and disruptive electronic circuit element that is considered an Emerging Technologies that will change the landscape of computing. After decades of theoretical research, on April 30, 2008 a team at HP Labs announced the development of a switching memristor based on a thin film of titanium dioxide, that demonstrated an approximately linear charge-resistance relationship.Memresistor devices are being developed for application in nanoelectronic memories, computer logic, and neuromorphic computer architectures that are expected to begin appearing in 2013.
- TiO2 can be employed for solar energy conversion based on dye, polymer and dye-sensitized solar cells, which are a type of chemical solar cell (also known as a Graetzel cell), or quantum dot sensitized nanocrystalline TiO2 solar cells using conjugated polymers as solid electrolytes.
- Electronic Storage. Recently announced TiO2 based technology for a 25TB Optical Disk! Remarkably, Titanium Oxide’s market price is about one-hundredth that of the rare element that is currently used in today’s rewritable Blu-ray discs and DVDs. TiO2 is cheap and safe to process, and will dramatically reduce storage costs someday soon. Researchers successfully created the TiO2-based material in particles measuring as small as 5 nanometers in diameter!
How Small is Small…
Illuminating the Future with Photo-Catalysts
Since Titanium is reactive with both UV and visible light, it has enormous proven potential to advance new methods of energy production, waste water treatment, and pollution control…Just as a starting point to it’s further development.
The photocatalytic properties of titanium dioxide were discovered by Akira Fujishima in 1967and published in 1972. The process on the surface of the titanium dioxide was called the Honda-Fujishima effect.
In 1995 Fujishima and his group discovered the superhydrophilicity phenomenon for titanium dioxide coated glass exposed to sun light.This resulted in the development of self-cleaning glass and anti-fogging coatings.
TiO2 incorporated into outdoor building materials, such as paving stones in noxer blocks or paints, can substantially reduce concentrations of airborne pollutants such as volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides.
A photocatalytic cement that uses titanium dioxide as a primary component, produced by Italcementi Group, was included in Time’s Top 50 Inventions of 2008.
Conversion of carbon dioxide into gaseous hydrocarbons using titanium dioxide in the presence of water is another very exciting area of research. As an efficient absorber in theUV range, titanium dioxide nanoparticles in the anatase and rutile phases are able to generate excitons by promoting electrons across the band gap. The electrons and holes react with the surrounding water vapor to produce hydroxyl radicals and protons. At present, proposed reaction mechanisms usually suggest the creation of a highly reactive carbon radical from carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide which then reacts with the photogenerated protons to ultimately form methane. Although the efficiencies of present titanium dioxide based photocatalysts are low, the incorporation of carbon based nanostructures such as carbon nanotubes and metallic nanoparticles have been shown to enhance the efficiency of these photocatalysts.
- The process occurs very slowly under ambient conditions, but direct UV light exposure increases the rate of reaction.
- The formation of photocyclized intermediate products, unlike direct photolysis techniques, is avoided.
- Oxidation of the substrates to CO2 is complete.
- The photocatalyst is inexpensive and has a high turnover.
- TiO2 can be supported on suitable reactor substrate
A most exciting future for Titanium Dioxide is offered by it’s great potential for use in energy production because as a photocatalyst, it can:
- Support hydrolysis to generate Hydrogen for fuel. The efficiency of this process can be greatly improved by doping the oxide with carbon.
- Titanium dioxide can also produce electricity when in nanoparticle form. Research shows that by using these nanoparticles to form the pixels of a screen, they can generate electricity when transparent and under the influence of light. If subjected to electricity on the other hand, the nanoparticles blacken, forming the basic characteristics of a LCD screen. According to creator Zoran Radivojevic, Nokia has already built a functional 200-by-200-pixel monochromatic screen which is energetically self-sufficient!
Since a Hydrogen based economy remains the Holy Grail of many Industrial and Environmental Sciences, this is where we’ll wrap-up our quick introduction to the enormous future potential of Titanium…
A most encouraging sign of this future comes from the University of Nevada, Reno’s Materials Nanotechnolgy Research Group, under the direction of Manoranjan Misra, professor of materials science in the Department of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering, has developed titanium dioxide nanotube arrays for generating hydrogen by splitting water using solar light. The group received $1 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to fund the project.
We could go on at length about this incredible element, but it should seem pretty clear by now, that where Titanium is concerned…The sky’s the limit!
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