Titanium, which is ten times stronger but six times lighter than steel, finds varied applications, including in aerospace, satellites, defence hardware, etc.
The only hurdle in titanium's way to becoming as commonplace as steel is its almost prohibitive price, which is mainly because of the existing energy-intensive extraction processes.
"We have not been able to exploit one of the largest titanium deposits in the world because the technology for extraction even today is very expensive," NML director SP Mehrotra had said on NML Day here recently.
Experts say that if titanium's cost can be cut down to about one-third of its present cost, many steel producers may not be comfortable as titanium would replace steel in many of its applications because of its superior properties.
NML also plans to focus on beneficiation of low-grade minerals as also on extraction of another useful light metal, magnesium, which too finds wide industrial use.
According to Dr Swantantra Prakash, deputy director & head, business development & monitoring division of NML, the premier metallurgical laboratory has already submitted a detailed plan of action for the five-year period to the Planning Commission as well as to the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR). NML is now awaiting clearance and funding.
"Because these are mega projects they have to be linked with so many labs and industries," the NML deputy director said, adding that development of cheaper technology for titanium extraction was 'the need of the country'.
NML wants to start a pilot project on titanium, right from the beneficiation stage to the technology it is going to pursue.
"At this point of time we are trying to work out a proposal by involving the resources available within the country, we will even look at industrial partners," said Prakash recently.
The metallurgical laboratory is thus going to tie up with research & development labs around the country after arriving at a consensus with each of them as to which process a particular project would be looking at and developing.
"We have already prepared a concept paper and are now waiting for the Planning Commission's directives as to which lab would be doing what," he said.
NML sources said other labs in the country may also be pursuing similar goals and that the Planning Commission would look at all the projects in totality.