Titanium tetrachloride – the most visual and spectacular exhibit of titanium in modern culture.



Titanium tetrachloride is a titanium and chlorine compound and has the chemical formula TICL4, tetra coming from the four chlorine atoms. It is also known as Tetrachlorotitanium or Titanic chloride. It appears as a dense, colorless to pale yellow distillable liquid, although crude samples may be yellow or even red-brown.



You can’t find it naturally in the environment, it is a man-made-product altogether. It first became commercially important in 1946 with the invention of the Kroll process, and it’s still widely used for the industrial fabrication of titanium and titanium dioxide in plants that still use this process.

I’m not going to press you too hard in the detailing of the Kroll process and the use of titanium tetrachloride in titanium industry. I think it’s sufficient to know that it’s a critical compound and all those shiny titanium products that you have been looking for could not be made without it. There are many other backstage materials and compounds that are vital in producing most of the applications you use as a final consumer and I think you are perfectly comfortable without knowing exactly what the chemical reactions behind those processes are.

But some of these materials have the chance of crossing the backstage threshold and become stars on stage, seldom gaining more fame than the product itself. TiCl4 is one such example, as it gained recognition and notoriety for itself, even sooner than titanium metal become what is it today – the king of metals, the new-thing in town.

And this is because a special titanium tetrachloride property regarding its reaction with water. For this it is sometime called “liquid smoke”. It is liquid at room temperature, that’s a fact. And in reaction with open air, more exactly with the moisture from the air – you know, vaporized water – it fumes, that’s it decomposes into titanium dioxide which provides the white coloring, and hydrochloric acid, which provides the smoke. In the picture, TICL4 smoke used to inspect air flow, courtesy of Meter mall

Though is looked by a many as rather irritating thing, smoke is an interesting thing to some people, such as the military personnel and the Hollywood movie technicians. Military regards titanium tetrachloride highly because of the denseness of the white smoke it creates when entering contact with air. The fact that the chloride compounds of the smoke are somewhat irritating to human skin is a plus when the smoke screen is used for retreat – makes the enemy rather unwilling to pursue.

Movie technicians find titanium chloride appealing because it doesn’t need any heat source in order to produce smoke. Room temperature, or better said, air temperature, is sufficient. Give enough moisture and you have smoke on demand. In fact, those lovely skywriting messages you have seen on movies, and if you were lucky enough, maybe even on real life, were most likely made out with the help of titanium tetrachloride.

Although toxic enough to need special precautions when handling, titanium chloride rapidly decomposes in non-toxic compounds in reaction with water, so no special issues regarding environment protection are raised. Just flush enough water, and you can get rid of all it, which also a plus for civil applications.

Titanium tetrachloride is one of the many metallic compounds that are used by glass artists in order to obtain iridizing effects, the colorful rainbow effect you see in state-of-art glass products. The process is to mix titanium chloride in the glass mixture which is later blown in various shapes that display the spectacular colors, or to spray it on the hot, finished glass, sometimes followed by a reheat of the product, which creates a titanium coating with the same properties.



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