Government-backed scientists working at Porton Down laboratories have whittled down the existing 40-stage process for refining titanium to just two steps, potentially slashing costs and opening up a wide variety of new uses for the low density, high strength metal.
Researchers at the Ministry of Defence's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) in Porton Down, claim that their work represents a "titanium revolution" in the making.
As a material, titanium is extremely is as strong as steel but half the weight. However, it costs up to ten times more to refine from mineral ores, making it expensive to produce and integrate into everyday products.
Despite this, titanium has become indispensable to the defence industry because it is strong, lightweight and corrosion resistant. It is often used in military aircraft and submarines.
However, its "high production costs make it difficult in all but essential areas", according to the Dstl release revealing the research. Dstl was charged with exploring ways that titanium can be produced more quickly and cheaply.
After investing nearly £30,000 into a joint research project with the University of Sheffield, the Dstl researchers claim to have discovered a "new ground-breaking manufacturing process."
So far, the scientists have only carried out a few small-scale trials to test their finding, although they teamed up with Kennametal Manufacturin to build a large-scale fast furnace facility.
Kennametal is a $2.1 billion US multinational with customers in 60 countries around the world, originally founded in 1938 to market a new tungsten-titanium carbide alloy.
Matthew Lunt, principal scientist at Dstl, believes that the Lab's finding could transform titanium production. "We're really excited about this innovation, which could cut the production cost of titanium parts by up to 50 per cent," he said.
"With this reduction in cost, we could use titanium in submarines, where corrosion resistance would extend the life, or for lightweight requirements like armoured vehicles."
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: "Our Armed Forces use titanium in everything from cutting-edge nuclear submarines and fighter jets through to life-changing replacement limbs - but production time and costs mean we haven't always used it.
"This ground-breaking method is not only faster and cheaper but could see a huge expansion of titanium parts and equipment throughout the military."
However, the research is still at an early stage and is a long way from going into production.
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