Zirconium is a white-gray transition metal with an atomic number of 40. Its chemical symbol is Zr and it is commonly found with the mineral zircon. It is very similar in appearance to titanium and it has a strong resistance to corrosion. There are 5 isotopes of Zirconium and 3 of these are stable. Zirconium forms a number of organometallic and inorganic compounds, the most commonly known being zirconium dioxide and zirconium dichloride. Read this article to learn about the uses of zirconium in the world today.
Uses of zirconium
The majority of zirconium is used in its ore form as zircon. This material is hard and known for being corrosion resistant. This makes it the perfect material for a variety of high temperature uses.
The main use of zircon is as an opacifier. This gives ceramic materials a white, opaque appearance.
It is also used to make molds for material such as molten metal. This is due to its chemical resistance.
Zirconium dioxide is used in the creation of laboratory crucibles and metallurgic furnaces as the refractory material.
Zircon can also be cut into stones for use in the jewelry industry.
Combustors, blades and vanes in jet engines are sometimes constructed of ceramic layers which are usually composed of Zircon and yttria.
Lithium zirconate can be used to absorb carbon dioxide. This useful in scientific applications and the process can also be reversed to release the carbon dioxide if desired.
Zirconium metal is used as an alloying agent in some materials, such as steel, that need to be chemical and corrosion resistant. Such applications include light filaments, surgical equipment and watch cases. It is also used to make pipes and values.
When exposed to oxygen at high temperatures zirconium becomes highly reactive. This characteristic makes it perfect for use as an explosive primer, in flash bulb photography and as “getters” in vacuum tubes. It is also used in some explosive weapons.
Zirconium/niobium alloys are used to make superconductor magnets.
1% of the zirconium produced each year is used for cladding nuclear reactor fuel rods. In this case it is mostly used as alloy with other metals as it is highly corrosion resistant. The danger in using zirconium alloys is its reaction with water at high temperatures, where it releases hydrogen gases.
Zirconium alloys are also used to create parts for space vehicles because it is resistant to high temperatures.
Zirconia is also used as an abrasive substance in sandpaper and on grinding wheels.
A recent application of Zirconium is in PET (Positron emission tomography), a nuclear imaging technique, cameras in the medical field. The isotope 89Zr is used for tracking and quantifying molecular antibodies.