Rare Metal Investments – Zirconium

rare metal investments - Bismuth

Zirconium is in the C Basket.

A high forehead, gently curved eyebrows with keen light blue eyes: Martin Heinrich Klaproth, born in 1743, was one of the most important German chemists. Born in the Harz mountains as the son of a poor tailor, he began his career in a small pharmacy. On the recommendation of Alexander von Humboldt he later became a professor in chemistry at the University of Berlin. Klaproth discovered uranium, the chemical element cerium, and zirconium in 1789. It was named after the mineral zircon, which was already known in the ancient world as a gemstone. In a gemstone sample from Ceylon, the chemist was able to demonstrate the presence of the element zirconium for the first time. And although zirconium is hardly a term known to the general public, it is actually not at all uncommon.

In fact it is more commonly used than the better known copper for instance. Perhaps the lower degree of popularity is simply because of its awkward name. The properties of this metal that is found mainly in the U.S., Australia and South America, are just outstanding. On the one hand, it forms compounds with gases such as oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide and is highly permeable to neutrons on the other hand. This makes it ideal for use as cladding tube material for fuel elements in nuclear power plants, where it can easily withstand the extreme conditions in the core of an operating nuclear reactor. Further areas of applications are the deoxidation and desulphurisation of steel or as getter material for vacuum pumps. Three companies are considered to be the most important producers: Areva in France, Toshiba in Japan and Wah Chang in the United States. It can also be found in jewellery stores as zirconium dioxide, also known as zirconia and is very popular as an imitation of diamonds, to which it is not inferior in terms of its brilliance.

One can also look at it from another perspective: Diamonds are nothing but overpriced zirconia! And who knows – maybe Klaproth even bought zirconia rings unknowingly for his wedding in 1780?

Specifications

Element Symbol: Zr
Atomic mass: 91.224 amu
Atomic radius: 206 pm
Density: 6.511 g/cm³
Color: Metallic Silver
Melting point: 1,857°C
Boiling point: 4,409 °C
Heat of evaporation: 590.5 kJ/mol
Annual production worldwide approx.: 920,000 t.

Application

  • Cladding tube or fuel elements
  • Refractory ceramics
  • Material for vacum equipment
  • Acid resistant equipment
  • Electrolytes in solid oxide fuel cells
  • Cubic Zirconium
  • Pigment in ceramics
  • Nuclear reactors