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Tantalum and tantalum alloy Overview and Applications

Tantalum is one of the rarest elements in the earth¡¯s crust. It is a very hard metal with platinum-gray color and a density of 16.6 g/cm3, which is twice as dense as steel. The material demonstrates high ductility at high temperatures and superior electrical and thermal conductivity. In fact, in extremely corrosive environments with strong and hot acid, such as HCl, H2SO4, Piranha acid, acetic acid, nitric acid, etc., tantalum metal has no detectable corrosion rate; essentially tantalum eliminates corrosion. When compared with other specialty metals such as nickel alloy, titanium alloy or zirconium, tantalum metal's corrosion resistance is better. Tantalum's unique corrosion resistance allows tantalum to operate in acid environments that are stronger, more concentrated and hotter where no other metals could survive, which makes tantalum an ideal material to eliminate corrosion in strong acid environments.

Another interesting property of tantalum is that it has a density of 16.6 g/cm3, which is almost 50% denser than lead. Because of this, tantalum can block radiation. This property, making it radio-opaque and visible with X-rays, is an important characteristic for implantable medical devices. Furthermore, because of its inertness, it¡¯s safe to use this metal within the body for medical applications and it¡¯s ideal for applications where the slightest contamination is detrimental.

More than 60 percent of this high performance metal in the world is used in electronics products. The largest application is electronic capacitors, where tantalum ability to form stable oxide films creates highly efficient, highly reliable and environmentally versatile components.

Pure tantalum is ductile and may be drawn into very fine wire. At higher temperatures, tantalum is more reactive. The melting point of tantalum is very high. And the best feature about tantalum is that it is practically immune to chemical attack at temperatures lower than 150 ¡ãC and is only attacked by hydrofluoric acid, acidic solutions of the fluoride ion, and free sulfur trioxide. Alkalis attack tantalum very slowly.

Tantalum wire is used as a filament for evaporating other metals. Tantalum is incorporated into a variety of alloys, conferring high melting point, ductility, strength, and corrosion resistance. Tantalum carbide is one of the hardest materials ever made. At high temperatures, tantalum has good 'gettering' ability. Tantalum oxide films are stable and they are with desirable dielectric and rectifying properties. This metal is used in the equipment of chemical process, vacuum furnaces, capacitors, nuclear reactors, and aircraft parts.

In semiconductors, tantalum has emerged as an ideal barrier solution.

Strength, ductility, toughness, corrosion resistance, thermal conductivity and high melting point make tantalum important in chemical and pharmaceutical processing, aerospace, energy and ballistic applications. Tantalum is also used as alloys in turbine blades, power turbines and jet engines, where it brings structural integrity at higher temperatures and increases fuel efficiency.

Tantalum is a material with virtually endless potential. It can form an ultrathin oxide coating that can serve as a protective layer, which makes it suitable for producing small and high-quality capacitors. With superior resistance to chemicals and high temperatures, tantalum provides several benefits to the chemical processing industry in the production of pipelines, heat exchangers and reactor coatings. It exhibits a high degree of biocompatibility, which makes it well suited to be applied in medical technology as a radiographic contrast agent as well as in the production of implants and bone replacement materials.

In the energy and aerospace industries, the addition of tantalum improves the corrosion resistance of alloys used in turbine blades. A suite of tantalum compounds such as lithium tantalates and tantalum chlorides provides excellent material properties, which are crucial for sophisticated industrial applications. In the fabrication of tools and cutting steels containing carbides, the addition of tantalum and niobium carbide increases their stability and performance. With the employment of tantalum oxides, manufacturers of optical lens can achieve thinner lens profiles by optimizing the refractive index of their products.

Resistance to high temperatures and chemical corrosion makes tantalum and its alloys common materials to construct processing equipment of chemical, pharmaceutical and nuclear plants. Tantalum operates safely at high temperatures and chemical concentrations, while minimizing product contamination. Applications include reaction vessels, liners and repair materials, instrumentation and safety devices such as thermowells, diaphragms, rupture discs and orifices.

Tantalum offers high thermal conductivity, which is important to distillation equipment, heat exchangers, condensers, bayonet heaters, spiral coils, U-tubes, spargers, side-arm reboilers and thermowells. Thin-gauge tantalum strips can be readily deep-drawn to produce inert laboratory crucibles and cups.

The corrosion resistance, heat transfer performance and workability of tantalum make it a perfect construction material for a wide range of equipment and applications. Common types of tantalum fabrication are heat exchangers, condensers, columns or towers, reactors, helical coils, pipe spools, valve linings and a variety of other components exposed to extremely corrosive fluids.

Applications of tantalum should be considered wherever corrosion is a factor, and long-term benefits of reduced downtime, increased life expectancy and profitability is important. For many applications, tantalum is the only reasonable choice.

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