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Thread: Titanium (or just someone with a good understanding of chemistry, please)

  1. #1
    Mr. Boo is watching you. rosehips's Avatar
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    Titanium (or just someone with a good understanding of chemistry, please)

    Hi all. I'm planning to have my characters steal a large quantity of titanium for a mad scientist who is building a jet suit (think Ironman) with it. I've been researching how titanium is mined and extracted from its ore, and trying to get a sense for how it's stored, but I could really use some help. If someone could dumb all this down for me, I'd really appreciate it.

    Here's the website I'm reading about extraction and storing.

    Basically what I need to know for the story is, what form are the characters likely to find the titanium in? They are going to raid a warehouse or warehouses where it is stored. It looks to me like the usual way to store it is in the form of titanium chloride, but then I'm not sure I understand, because that's a liquid? But it's stored in dry tanks? I don't understand that, it sounds like a contradiction to me.

    The goal is to acquire enough titanium to create alloys with, possibly, nickel or copper or aluminum, or some combination, I haven't really gotten that far in terms of figuring out a workable alloy. Then they will be producing enough suits for one or two squadrons. I haven't decided how many, but let's say something in the neighborhood of two to three dozen. How much titanium would they need, do you think? I don't need exact numbers by any means, just a gist. I don't have a good sense for this at all. Are we talking a thousand tons? A dozen pounds? I have no idea.

    Thanks for any and all help.

  2. #2
    Lady of Masks Raunchel's Avatar
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    Keep in mind that it's been some time since I studied material sciences, and titanium wasn't really discussed. But based on this, the titanium chloride is basically an intermediate substance, because you need multiple steps to produce it. From the chloride, it's purified, until you're left with just pure titanium, which would mostly be in the usual forms, like sheets, bars, rods, or powder.

  3. #3
    Mr. Boo is watching you. rosehips's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Raunchel View Post
    Keep in mind that it's been some time since I studied material sciences, and titanium wasn't really discussed. But based on this, the titanium chloride is basically an intermediate substance, because you need multiple steps to produce it. From the chloride, it's purified, until you're left with just pure titanium, which would mostly be in the usual forms, like sheets, bars, rods, or powder.
    Thank you for your reply!

    So have I misunderstood that it likely would be stored as titanium chloride after it was mined? As I understand it, titanium is mined by dredging mineral sands but it's not in a pure form. Its ore is "rutile" (TiO2) and then it's converted into titanium chloride (a liquid) and must be stored in dry tanks as its somehow volatile if exposed to normal air...? This is where my comprehension breaks down.

    I gather if exposed to air, it creates hydrogen chloride gas?

    But I don't understand how a liquid can be stored in a dry tank.

    Also, any idea about the quantities?

  4. #4
    Who's going for a beer? waylander's Avatar
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    TiCl4 is a highly reactive liquid which will give hydrochloric acid and TiO2 on exposure to water. TiO2 is a pain to handle because it does not dissolve in much. I (PhD chemist) have handled TiCl4 often. It is notorious for blocking syringes if they are not rigorously dried.

  5. #5
    Mr. Boo is watching you. rosehips's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by waylander View Post
    TiCl4 is a highly reactive liquid which will give hydrochloric acid and TiO2 on exposure to water. TiO2 is a pain to handle because it does not dissolve in much. I (PhD chemist) have handled TiCl4 often. It is notorious for blocking syringes if they are not rigorously dried.
    Okay, so am I reading that webpage wrong? Because why would you store titanium in this highly reactive form?

    Wouldn't it make more sense to find a stable form for storage?

  6. #6
    Lady of Masks Raunchel's Avatar
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    It's not for storage, but for getting the metal from the titanium dioxide. You would store titanium that's to be used as a material in metallic form, like I mentioned earlier.

  7. #7
    Who's going for a beer? waylander's Avatar
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    TiCl4 is a key intermediate in the production of titanium metal. Because titanium-containing ore cannot be directly transformed into the metal by smelting with carbon, as is the case with iron, another method has to be used. That method is the reaction of TiCl4 with either sodium or mahnesium. This is pretty high tech, as you have to be able to make metallic sodium or magnesium so probably not as good option for your story.

  8. #8
    Benefactor Member WeaselFire's Avatar
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    Sheets, rods, bars, ingots. Same storage as steel. Titanium chloride is just part of the process before the final metal product. Which I'm assuming is what you'd want to steal. I remember a figure of 300 pounds per cubic foot. It's a light metal, but it's not actually that light, maybe 60% of the same size chunk of steel. It's the strength to weight ration that makes titanium so good.

    Jeff

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    Mr. Boo is watching you. rosehips's Avatar
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    Thanks everyone!

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    Mr. Boo is watching you. rosehips's Avatar
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    Would there be any advantage to stealing it in the liquid form? I liked how it complicated matters in terms of making transportation more dangerous. The goal is to acquire the titanium to create an alloy (and since the scientist running things isn't sure what's going to work, he'll want to experiment with different combinations of metals). Would having it in the titanium chloride form in any way be preferable to having it in metal bars?

    If not I can just take out what I've written about the risks of contact with air and water. It just would be cool to have that in there.

  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW neandermagnon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rosehips View Post
    Would there be any advantage to stealing it in the liquid form? I liked how it complicated matters in terms of making transportation more dangerous. The goal is to acquire the titanium to create an alloy (and since the scientist running things isn't sure what's going to work, he'll want to experiment with different combinations of metals). Would having it in the titanium chloride form in any way be preferable to having it in metal bars?

    If not I can just take out what I've written about the risks of contact with air and water. It just would be cool to have that in there.
    I'd find it implausible that they'd want anything other than solid titanium. I don't understand why titanium chloride would be better for making alloys than pure titanium. Making an alloy involves mixing metals together (it's a mixture, not the product of a chemical reaction) so you'd use the pure metal. Stealing the ore rather than the metal would be illogical as it would be costly and time consuming to get the metal out of the ore (even more so for titanium as you can't just smelt it to get the ore out like you can with iron, copper, etc). There would have to be a very, very, plausible plot reason why they are completely unable to steal titanium, but somehow are able to steal titanium chloride. Given how much titanium is used in manufacturing, I'd find it implausible that stealing titanium chloride is easier than stealing titanium.

    Titanium chloride an intermediate substance that's produced from titanium ore, i.e. you don't find it lying around in nature. It's one step in the process of extracting titanium from titanium ore. That further decreases the logic factor in stealing titanium chloride. Seems to me you'd have to steal it from a titanium refinery plant or something - which would also have titanium ore and titanium. If the only possible way to get titanium is for them to mine titanium ore, then they wouldn't be transporting titanium chloride they'd have to go through the whole process of refining the titanium ore. Which would be a total pain in the arse compared to stealing a load of titanium from a factory or something. And there wouldn't be much point in keeping the titanium chloride knocking about the place. You'd complete the extraction/refining process then store and transport the titanium, because it's safer. Granted that it's more exciting when dangerous things have to be transported, but there's also the danger of characters crossing into "too stupid to survive" territory if they're exposing themselves to a whole lot of danger and difficulty when the reader knows there's a much safer and easier way to do something. Plus there's the fact that if the only source of metal is to mine the ore yourself, it stretches plausibility that they'd have all the various other high tech things needed for extracting titanium. At that point it would be much more plausible that they'd stick with metals that can be obtained by smelting.
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  12. #12
    Who's going for a beer? waylander's Avatar
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    Getting titanium metal from titanium tetrachloride is seriously non-trivial requiring molten magnesium at 900C under an inert atmosphere. They would be very much better off stealing the titanium metal.
    Last edited by waylander; 07-17-2017 at 02:53 PM.

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    Mr. Boo is watching you. rosehips's Avatar
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    Okay, thank you both!

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    Benefactor Member WeaselFire's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rosehips View Post
    Would having it in the titanium chloride form in any way be preferable to having it in metal bars?
    Harder to move, more dangerous to move, less useful than in metal form, larger quantity needed to produce smaller quantity of metal, still need refining facilities... Are those more preferable to your tale? If so, make it work.

    Jeff

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    Mr. Boo is watching you. rosehips's Avatar
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    I've been watching this video on youtube (the first minute and a half cover the stuff that pertains to my question) and it looks like when refining titanium you have a canister of molten magnesium. What happens to this magnesium when the plant isn't functioning? How is the magnesium stored? I read about Mg that it's very flammable but not so much when it's in large chunks. If they are going to melt it, though, wouldn't they want small chunks? Can I expose the Mg stored for use there to the air and cause a big white light and a big fire?

    They also introduce chlorine gas into one step of the process. Do they store it in gas tanks, I presume? If so, would damaging a tank flood the area with chlorine gas? Are gas masks sufficient to allow a person to function in that situation?

    If I understand correctly, they don't just have canisters of titanium tetrachlorine sitting around. It's something produced when the process of refinement is underway, right? So no amount of grenades or bombing is going to create a situation where the titanium tetrachlorine is exposed to air or water...?

    They also use argon in the process of refinement. This made me think of two possibilities. 1) Maybe the Mg gets lit up somehow and someone has the bright idea to put that fire out by opening up a tank (?) of argon. 2) As argon is denser than oxygen this could very well create a dangerous situation if the argon went into an enclosed space, so people might asphyxiate.

    Please let me know if anything I've said here makes sense or is completely wrong-headed. I want my heroes to have to deal with a significantly challenging situation as they try to steal the titanium so any suggestions are very much appreciated.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by rosehips View Post
    I want my heroes to have to deal with a significantly challenging situation as they try to steal the titanium so any suggestions are very much appreciated.
    The titanium is being guarded by zombie vampires wielding laser beam weapons.

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    the world is at my command jennontheisland's Avatar
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    Stealing anything poses problems. It doesn't need to be in some odd form or anything for stealing it to be a challenge. Rather than looking at how it's refined, have you considered where it's going to be lifted from? I'm sure there will be cameras, security guards (human and canine) and locks, gates, and whatnot to get past. Plus the fact that you're stealing hundreds of pounds of metal.

    And the zombie vampires with laser beams.
    Last edited by jennontheisland; 07-18-2017 at 08:16 AM.
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    Who's going for a beer? waylander's Avatar
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    Certainly there would be chlorine tanks and flooding an area with chlorine gas makes it lethal - it was used in WW1 as a war gas. If you're quickly passing through the area a decent gas mask should suffice just don't hang around.

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    Mr. Boo is watching you. rosehips's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by waylander View Post
    Certainly there would be chlorine tanks and flooding an area with chlorine gas makes it lethal - it was used in WW1 as a war gas. If you're quickly passing through the area a decent gas mask should suffice just don't hang around.
    Thank you. I did read about the use of it in WWI. How long would you say a gas mask would protect the wearer? Would that protection expire gradually or all at once? Would there be milder effects with the mask on?

  20. #20
    practical experience, FTW Twick's Avatar
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    I can't see any reason why one would steal a chemical intermediate - particularly a reactive liquid that can give off toxic fumes - rather than nice bars. (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titani...anzylinder.jpg for a nice picture).

    A chlorine leak would definitely get people out of the area. Here's a quick link to someone selling chlorine PPE http://www.suresafety.com/ppe/chlorine-safety.html. This would be the sort of thing your thieves would need. A gas mask by itself wouldn't be sufficient.

  21. #21
    Who's going for a beer? waylander's Avatar
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    If the chlorine replaces the oxygen in an enclosed area then you're screwed with or without gas mask. If there's a bit of chlorine around then the mask will work for a few breaths but you can't stay in the area.

  22. #22
    Mr. Boo is watching you. rosehips's Avatar
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    Thank you both, very helpful.

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    Cat whisperer Mark HJ's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rosehips View Post
    What happens to this magnesium when the plant isn't functioning? How is the magnesium stored? I read about Mg that it's very flammable but not so much when it's in large chunks. If they are going to melt it, though, wouldn't they want small chunks? Can I expose the Mg stored for use there to the air and cause a big white light and a big fire?
    Magnesium is not necessarily easy to ignite, but once it's burning it's a devil to extinguish, the flame temperature is very high, and hot magnesium will react with all sorts of things. So, for instance, it will react vigorously with glass to give you silicon. From what I have seen on a small scale in the lab, a large quantity of burning magnesium would tear through glass, concrete, steel...
    There is a thing called the thermite reaction - the usual incarnation is a mixture of powdered aluminium and iron oxide. Once you get it lit the aluminium 'burns', getting it's oxygen from the iron oxide. At the end, you have aluminium oxide slag floating on molten iron. In terms of reactivity, think of magnesium as aluminium on steroids.


    Quote Originally Posted by rosehips View Post
    They also introduce chlorine gas into one step of the process. Do they store it in gas tanks, I presume? If so, would damaging a tank flood the area with chlorine gas? Are gas masks sufficient to allow a person to function in that situation?
    A few decades back, definitely tanks. As a young post-grad student I spent time on a site producing pure titanium dioxide - take your tetrachloride and react it with water and then separate the resulting hydrochloric acid from the pure titanium dioxide. As part of the health and safety, my host said if the bells ring, it's a fire, assemble out there, if the siren goes off, the chlorine tank has ruptured, get out through the nearest hole in the wall (door, fire exit, window...) and start running upwind.
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    Mr. Boo is watching you. rosehips's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark HJ View Post
    Magnesium is not necessarily easy to ignite
    ...
    get out through the nearest hole in the wall (door, fire exit, window...) and start running upwind.
    Thank you! Great information. I appreciate your sharing your experience.

  25. #25
    practical experience, FTW Twick's Avatar
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    Ideally, if you're in an atmosphere with any sort of gas leak, you want something like a Scott Air Pack that's a Self-Contained Air Respirator (SCBA). It provides oxygen even when the atmosphere is oxygen-poor, and because it's positive-pressure, it keeps the bad stuff from entering the mask when you inhale.

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