An Either Ore Situation

Titanium, the king of metals, scraps for a home in Denver.

"With a titanium spring, we can lower the hood and go to wider tires," adds Faller. "The designers are using titanium to make the cars look physically different."

Olin thinks titanium can find a place on high-end sports cars, but he thinks the cost will still keep it off more average cars.

"It will be a long time before you see titanium on the Honda Accord," he predicts.

Mark Poutenis
Joe Simmons of BlueSky Studio designed the Titanium building on Wazee Street.
Anthony Camera
Joe Simmons of BlueSky Studio designed the Titanium building on Wazee Street.

One more immediate bright spot for titanium is the increased demand for deep-sea oil and gas drilling. Titanium works well underwater because of its flexibility and resistance to corrosion.

"As rigs dive deeper, they don't want to use as much steel because of the rigidity," says Olin.

Medical uses of the metal are also growing. Some people are now walking around with titanium inside their bodies.

"We use it in plates for fractures, cardiac stints, hips and knees, and artificial finger joints," says Dr. Ralph Cotton, Timet's director of medical applications. "In dentistry, we use it to put screws in the jawbone to anchor false teeth."

Doctors like titanium because it won't trigger allergic reactions the way other metals can, Cotton adds. "It's ideal, because it's non-corrosive and the body accepts it. It can be implanted without any host reaction."

Titanium's appeal even extends to low-tech homemade items. One Boulder entrepreneur has been successful selling titanium chopsticks. Chuck Lawhead says he came up with the idea at his martial arts school, the Chinese Shao-Lin Center in Boulder.

"In the Shao-Lin art, there's at least one form that uses chopsticks as a weapon," says Lawhead. "My instructor had this idea that it would be interesting to get some metal chopsticks made."

Lawhead works for a company that makes semiconductor supplies, and he talked to some of the machinists at work about manufacturing chopsticks. His martial arts instructor already had a pair of steel chopsticks that had started to rust, and he told Lawhead that he wanted the new ones to be made from titanium. Though skeptical about the cost, Lawhead didn't challenge the idea.

"When somebody is a seventh-degree black belt, you don't question them," he says.

They ended up ordering 150 pairs, which were manufactured locally. At $45 a pair, they sold quickly, mainly to students at the school. Besides using them as weapons, many of the students also eat with them.

"With other metal chopsticks, you can taste the metal," Lawhead says. "The titanium chopsticks are very neutral. They're virtually indestructible and very easy to clean."

After selling out the first batch, Lawhead ordered more. So far, he's sold 400 pairs.

Even though titanium has so many loyalists, it continues to be an outsider in the metal world. Just when it seems to be on the verge of a major breakthrough, some new obstacle arises.

Timet created a subsidiary, Tipro, to generate business in the auto-racing world. Racers are drawn to the metal because of its light weight and strength. Custom-built race cars are being made with titanium chassis and drive shafts in garages around the country.

However, some of the sanctioning bodies in various races have restricted the use of titanium, claiming its expense gives those with titanium race cars an unfair advantage. To find out what kind of metal has been used on the cars, the judges often use a magnet. (Titanium is not magnetic.)

Faller says a lot of race teams try to incorporate steel into their cars to disguise their use of titanium.

"We know of some race teams that do their best not to let people know what kind of metal they're using," he says. "They go to great lengths to make the titanium magnetic."

But the first residents of LoDo's Titanium building certainly aren't disguising their choice of metals. Buck Blessing bought a penthouse there, and he says the use of titanium on the exterior lured him.

"What I was attracted to about the building was its high quality," he says. "I think the titanium veneer adds to that impression. It's not inexpensive stuff."

Blessing is intrigued enough with the metal that he's considering using it on the interior of his unit, which he'll move into in June.

"I may use it on my fireplace flue and on the hood for my stove," he says. "I think titanium is much more attractive than stainless steel. It's a richer, deeper color."

He credits the developers for making a statement with their choice of metals.

"They want it to be first-rate," says Blessing. "That's where the titanium comes in."

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