Titanium is a fantastic material. It’s lightweight and durable. Twice as strong as aluminium and half the weight of steel. It also has fantastic corrosion resistance, needing conditions that your bike likely won’t ever need to deal with before its corrosion is a problem. It’s generally difficult to argue that titanium isn’t a great bike material in anything other than the price.
There is a difference between being a great bike material and being an eco-friendly one though. So if we want to make the bike industry green it’s worth looking at just how eco-friendly titanium is. Certainly most titanium manufacturers and processors claim it is. But they’re also a tad bit biassed.
The Case For Titanium
There is absolutely reason to believe that titanium is an eco-friendly material. The big benefit in bike frames translates fairly well to eco-friendliness, it’s very durable. Because titanium is so durable and corrosion resistant, that means it can last a very long time.
There’s two ways this helps. The first is that one bike lasts for one rider for a significantly longer time. As such they don’t need to buy a new bike anywhere near as soon and so less bikes need to be produced. Which is great, but casual riders probably aren’t going to pay for a titanium frame, and serious riders aren’t going to stick with the one bike forever.
By embracing the circular economy we can see the real benefit here. Serious riders might not stick to the same bike even if it’s still in great condition but the bike can still enter the circular economy. Titanium is a great material for the circular economy for the same reason it can give you a bike for life. It’s super durable, one titanium frame bike could serve multiple riders without major problems.
Something like an aluminium bike can’t provide a stable ride for anywhere near as long or to as many new riders. In that sense titanium is a very green material in that it helps cut down on the number of bikes that need to be produced overall. On a tangential note, this also helps to keep industry growth in check.
For bikes that don’t enter back into the circular economy titanium is also 100% recyclable. As a bonus recycling titanium uses less energy than refining fresh titanium ore. This is all great news for titanium frames eco-friendly rating. Of course the circular economy is still greener than recycling the titanium, but recycling is viable.
Are There Problems With Titanium?
Just like any material titanium has an impact on the environment though and it’s important to recognise that when using it in the industry. Even more important is trying to find ways to limit the environmental impact of titanium sage within the industry.
The first problem comes from extracting raw titanium. While titanium is fully recyclable there is always more being pulled and refined from the ground. The process for doing this involves strip mining and the use of chlorine to refine the ore. As such titanium mining presents a significant threat to ecosystems and habitats. In titaniums defence the same can be said of most mined minerals. But it does mean that a significant rise in the demand from titanium would dramatically increase it’s impact on the environment.
The other problem lies in the manufacture of titanium frames themselves. Reynolds performed a study recently that showed that titanium frames produce significantly more carbon than ferrous steel frames. Significantly more in this case meaning more than three times as much per frame. So we say that it is not the greenest material to produce bikes with. But if that one bike lasts longer than the steel version then the difference in production emissions lessens.
How Can We Make Titanium Greener?
There are ways we can make titanium a greener product. Like we’ve said it’s important to learn how to improve our processes all the time. By doing so we can continue to lessen the industries negative impact on the environment.
To start with we can embrace titanium durability to help bolster the circular economy. A second hand titanium frame is still a titanium frame and chances are it’s still got a very long life ahead of it. By continuing the lifecycle of a titanium frame we can mitigate the need for new titanium. And so lessen the need for new titanium strip mines. Instead we simply swap out componentry that needs to be changed and give the bike a new life.
This also helps reduce the number of bikes needing to be produced. Allowing one bike to last for multiple riders. With titanium durability it’s even possible to do this multiple times. If a bike manages to pass through four riders it even closes the gap on the steel bike based on Reynolds numbers. Assuming the steel bike isn’t in the circular economy at least, which it should be.
The other thing that we need to do is improve the manufacturing process to lower emissions and waste in the first place. Mitring titanium tubes and welding them together will get you a great bike, but there is also going to be waste titanium. Whether that’s from offcuts or from human error. By finding more efficient and reliable production methods we can limit the emissions and waste produced and make a greener bike.