There is no doubt that the aerospace industry hit some major turbulence over the course of the pandemic and – while news reports of strikes, delays and lost luggage would lead many of us to believe that the sector is still facing considerable challenges – there is, according to PWC, hope on the horizon as full recovery is predicted for later this year.
This is, of course, great news for travellers the world over, but it also signals a renewed boost for producers of titanium – a core material for aircraft manufacture. The downside is that since the pandemic, the world’s political landscape has changed dramatically and supply chains are extremely vulnerable as a result.
From Cornwall to Outer Space
According to the UK’s Royal Society of Chemistry, the first titanium mineral was discovered in Cornwall by the Reverend William Gregor in 1791 and first considered for manufacturing in 1910 America when Matthew A. Hunter worked with the metal on a General Electric Company project. Since then, large scale deposits have been found across the planet, with China, Russia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and India amongst today’s top producers. It is used in the everyday – find it in bicycles, golf clubs and crutches – as well as in the extraordinary and out of this world on satellites and in the space industry.
Titanium is particularly valuable to the aerospace industry thanks to its many useful qualities. It is easily fabricated, is resistant to corrosion, can withstand extreme temperatures and acts as an alloying agent for a number of metals, including aluminium and iron. Crucially, it is ductile in low-density environments and has the highest strength-to-density ratio of any metal. Indeed, according to Aviation Week, it is nothing short of being “a miracle material”, which features “prominently in a variety of applications, from fighters to Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 aerostructures and landing systems to the cold section of aero-engines”.
Unfortunately, as referenced earlier, accessing supplies of titanium is far from straightforward, particularly now that China is back under the world’s political microscope and Russia persists in its invasion of Ukraine.
Desperately seeking solutions
While trade and export sanctions were imposed on several of the country’s industrial sectors, the state-run Russian producer of titanium VSMPO-AVISMA was not included. However, companies such as Boeing soon announced it would no longer buy Russian titanium and according to aerotime.aero other giants such as Airbus, are also looking to other suppliers. The upshot? The re-burgeoning aerospace industry is facing a titanium shortage that will soon need urgent attention.
A sustainable future
It is clearly time for the EU – where titanium continues to be classed as a Critical Raw Material – to look closer to home for sustainable titanium deposits and for these deposits to be used in all titanium applications, ranging from titanium dioxide as a whitener in toothpaste to titanium alloys for aerospace. With licences in southwest Norway and exploration data identifying a world class resource, Norge Mining is focused on becoming a major supplier of titanium from a strategic location within Europe