Tantalum is an extraordinary material that, due to its unique properties and characteristics, has found multiple applications in various industries. Next, we review what is tantalumwhat are its physical and chemical properties, its uses and other relevant aspects of this metal.
Tantalum, as this element is also known, was discovered in 1802 by the Swedish chemist Anders Gustaf Ekeberg, who isolated it from two minerals: tantalite and itrotantalite.
Since its discovery, this metal has found utility in a wide variety of applications. In the 21st century, this material represents a crucial element in the electronics industry. Today, more than 75% of electronic devices contain this metal in some form.
In particular, engineers have been able to take advantage of the properties of tantalum to make capacitors and other electronic components smaller and more efficient.
tantalum it’s a rare metalhard, lustrous and bluish-gray in color that belongs to group 5 of the periodic table, along with vanadium (V), niobium (Nb) and dubnium (Db).
This chemical element, which is identified by the symbol Ta and has atomic number 73, is a refractory metal that has an extremely high melting point. Also, tantalum has remarkable resistance to deformation and corrosion, which makes it ideal for use in various applications and demanding environments.
What are the physical and chemical properties of tantalum?
Tantalum has various physical and chemical properties that make it be a highly valued material for multiple industrial applications. Among these properties are:
High resistance to the corrosion
Tantalum is distinguished by having a exceptional corrosion resistancemaking it ideal for use in environments involving aggressive chemicals and solutions.
This metal forms a stable oxide layer on its surface, known as tantalum pentoxide (Ta2O5), which acts as a protective barrier against chemical reactions. This property makes tantalum the preferred choice for manufacturing chemical process equipment.
tantalum is chemically stable and it does not react with most substances at normal temperatures and pressures. This metal will not rust or tarnish in air or water.
Also, it does not dissolve or form compounds with most metals and non-metals. It also does not ignite or burn in oxygen or other gases. This chemical stability makes tantalum an ideal material for applications that require inertness and durability.
high temperature resistance
Tantalum is a refractory metal distinguished by its strong resistance to heat and wear. This metal has a high melting point of 3,017 °C, the fourth highest of all metals. This property allows it to withstand high temperatures without melting or deforming and to retain its strength and ductility.
In particular, this material is distinguished by its excellent stability and maintain its structural integrity at high temperatures. This property makes tantalum a suitable resource for applications where the materials must withstand extreme conditions.
Low density and high electrical conductivity
Tantalum has a low density of 16.69 g/cm3, being one of the lightest metals. In addition, it has a high electrical conductivity of 57.5 W/(m K), making it a excellent conductor of heat and electricity. These characteristics make tantalum an ideal choice for manufacturing high-performance electronic components.
Tantalum is the metal with the highest capacitance per unit volume. This means you can store more electrical charge in a given space than other metals. That is why it is frequently used in the manufacture of high-performance electronic components.
In terms of mechanical properties, tantalum is very ductile, which makes it suitable for processes such as bending, stamping and pressing. When combined with other metals, it can produce alloys with higher strength and higher melting points.
Tantalum is a biocompatible material, which means that does not cause adverse reactions when implanted in the human body. This makes it suitable for the manufacture of medical devices such as implants, prostheses, pacemakers, stents, and surgical instruments.
What are the uses of tantalum?
Due to its exceptional physical and chemical properties, tantalum finds wide applications in various industries, including:
One of the most common uses for tantalum is in the electronics industry. This metal works to make capacitors, essential components of modern electronic devices. Tantalum is also used in the manufacture of resistors, transistors, diodes, and other electronic components.
Aerospace and aviation
Tantalum can withstand high temperatures and resist corrosion making it suitable for aviation and aerospace applications. This metal is used to make jet engine parts and other components that require durability in extreme conditions.
In the aerospace and aviation industry, tantalum is also used to make alloys with other metals, such as tungsten, molybdenum and niobium. This process allows obtaining materials of high resistance and durability.
Tantalum’s resistance to corrosion and its stability at high temperatures make it ideal for use in chemical processing equipment.
tantalum too used as a catalyst for various chemical reactions. For example, for the production of synthetic fuels, plastics and pharmaceuticals. In addition, it also works as a catalyst for those production processes.
Thanks to its biocompatible properties, tantalum is used for manufacture medical devices. Whether bone plates, screws or joint prostheses, these devices can be implanted in the human body without causing infections or allergies. Tantalum is also used for the manufacture of surgical instruments.
Due to its resistance to high temperatures and its chemical stability, tantalum is used in the nuclear industry to make parts of nuclear reactors that can withstand extreme heat and radiation. Tantalum is also used to make radiation shielding materials.
Advantages of tantalum
Tantalum has several advantages over other metals which make it desirable for various applications. Some of these advantages are:
High corrosion resistance of tantalum
Tantalum’s ability to hold stable in corrosive environments allows its use in applications where other metals would be unsuitable.
Chemical stability and resistance to high temperatures of tantalum
Tantalum’s strength, stability, and strength ensure its longevity and durability in demanding applications. These particularities allow reduce maintenance costs and improve overall performance.
Low density and high electrical conductivity of tantalum
The low density and high electrical conductivity of tantalum make it ideal for making components for electronic devices that require compactness and high performance.
tantalum it’s relatively rare in the earth’s crust. This metal is usually associated with other minerals, mainly coltan (columbite-tantalite). Thus, the extraction of tantalum involves several steps:
The first step to obtain this precious metal consists of extract the minerals containing tantalum, which are usually found in regions rich in rare metals and minerals.
Subsequently, the extracted mineral is subjected to separation techniques magnetic and gravity to consolidate the concentration of tantalum.
Finally, these minerals are subjected to a treatment to remove impurities and obtain concentrates rich in tantalum.
Tantalum refining and purification methods
Tantalum concentrates obtained in the mineral processing phase contain other elements and impurities that must be removed. Refining and purification methods include:
- hydrometallurgical process: consists of the use of chemical solutions to selectively dissolve impurities and separate tantalum from other elements.
- Electrolysis: hydrometallurgically processed tantalum is electrolyzed to obtain pure metallic tantalum.
- vacuum fusion: For applications that require the highest purity, tantalum can be further purified using vacuum melting techniques.
Main producers of tantalum worldwide
Due to its rarity, tantalum production is limited to a few countries that dominate its extraction and processing. The main tantalum producers are:
- Democratic Republic of Congo: is the largest producer of tantalum in the world. In total, this country produced 860 metric tons of the metal in 2022, contributing 43 percent of the world supply.
- Brazil: It is the second largest producer of tantalum in the world and hosts 40,000 metric tons of tantalum reserves. The main tantalum producing region in this country is the Amazon Basin.
- Rwanda: was the largest producer of tantalum in 2020, contributing 36% of world production in that period. This country produced 650 metric tons of tantalum and exported coltan to other countries for further processing.
- Australia: It is one of the main producers of tantalum, with important reserves of tantalite ore. The Greenbushes tantalum mine in Western Australia is one of the largest tantalum mines in the world.