Niobium – the 41st element on the periodic table– is a soft, grey, crystalline metal used in a variety of applications from steel production to hypoallergenic jewelry. The metal was originally discovered by British chemist Charles Hatchett in 1801 as he examined American minerals from a collection in the British Museum. Hatchett named this element columbium, after Christopher Columbus. Through the years most people now refer to this element as Niobium. As tantalum and niobium are often found together and for many years were indistinguishable from each other, the name niobium comes from Niobe, the daughter of Tantalus from ancient Greek mythology.
Niobium mineral can be found in niobite, euxenite, pyrochlore, and niobite-tantalite. In pyrochlore niobium is often associated with carbonates. Vast deposits of niobium-rich minerals can be found in Russia, Nigeria, Zaire, Canada, along with the leading producer, Brazil. Annual production is over 50,000 tons of oxide.
Pure niobium is extracted from the mineral by digesting with hydrofluoric acid. The niobium aqueous solution is separated from other compounds by liquid-liquid extraction. The purified niobium is then precipitated from the aqueous solution as niobium hydroxide by an alkaline solution such as ammonia. After calcining the hydroxide is turned into niobium penta-oxide (pentoxide, Nb2O5). The niobium oxide can be converted to the metal form by aluminum thermite reduction. The metal is often further purified in an electron beam (EB) furnace to yield niobium ingots. Mill processes turn the ingot to plate, sheet, tube, and wire. Superconductor grade niobium (RRR 300) has very low impurities, especially gases, and can be made by repeatedly refining the metal in a high vacuum EB furnace.
Niobium is a lustrous, ductile metal. It features a high melting point (2,477° C), lower density than similar refractory metals, high corrosion resistance (but lower than tantalum), and good cold working properties.
Following is a summary of its properties:
Element Category — Transition Metals
Phase — Solid
Symbol — Nb
Number — 41
Density — 8.57 grams per cubic centimeter
STD Atomic Weight — 92.90638(2) g/mol
Crystal Structure — Body Centered Cubic
Melting Temperature — 2750 K, 2477° C, 4491° F
Boiling Point — 5017 K, 4744° C, 8571° F
Electrical Resistivity — (0 °C) 152 nΩ·m
Thermal Conductivity — (300 K) 53.7 W·m−1·K−1
Thermal Expansion — 7.3 µm/(m·K)
Industrial uses for niobium stretch as far back as the early 1900s, and more benefits are being discovered and applied for this valuable element as time goes on.
Niobium is most commonly used to create alloys. Even with as little as 0.01% niobium, the strength of steel is markedly improved. These alloys are often found in oil and gas facilities and pipelines. Niobium superalloys, such as nickel niobium, have a demonstrable ability to maintain stability, making them highly desirable in rockets and jet engines as well as land-based turbines in power plants.
Niobium titanium alloys are superconductive under certain low temperature range. These alloys are used to create superconducting magnets used in MRI scanners.
Further uses for niobium alloys include:
Arc-welding rods for stabilized grades of stainless steel
Nuclear reactor control rod due to its high temperature and corrosion resistance, and low neutron absorption at cross-section
Crucibles for synthetic diamond manufacturing
Sodium vapor lamb, and LCD back lighting
Jewelry: brilliant colors can be created on niobium surface
Superconductor, supercollider and particle accelerator using ultra-high purity metals and alloys
Optical coating and camera lens
Lithium niobite for wave guide in communications
Thin film solar cell
Admat offers a range line of pure, alloy, and oxide niobium products including:
Superconductor grade (RRR300)
Niobium 1% Zirconium
Niobium 47% Titanium
Niobium 50% Titanium
Niobium 55% Titanium
Niobium 10% hafnium 1% titanium
Metal and alloy forms
Flat: plate, sheet, foil, strip
Round: rod, wire
Sputtering target – flat or tube/pipe
If you’re interested in discussing how niobium can be used for your application, please feel free to contact our team of experts directly.
Refractory metals are metallic elements that exhibit properties that make them more durable than other metals. For example, they can demonstrate corrosion resistance, thermal and electrical conductivity, and deformation resistance. These characteristics make them ideal for use in highly demanding applications and environments. One example of refractory metals is tantalum, which is prized for its excellent resistance to corrosion.
What Is Tantalum?
Tantalum is among the most corrosion-resistant of the refractory metals. It possesses a protective oxide layer that is extremely difficult to remove, even when it is exposed to strong and hot acid environments. This layer results in a material with a non-detectable corrosion rate, which essentially means it cannot corrode. For this reason, it is commonly used in the fabrication of the following components:
Tantalum in Highly Corrosive Environments
Due to its unique characteristics, tantalum is ideal for parts and products used in highly corrosive environments. Its resistance to corrosion and inertness with most acids enable it to withstand long-term use within them. Since it is not damaged or degraded by acids, it can remain in contact with the media for extended periods.
The material is often used for equipment for the chemical processing and pharmaceutical industries since they generally involve hot and highly corrosive environments. It can stand up to exposure to hot, concentrated acids, like hydrochloric acid (HCI) or sulfuric acid (H2SO4). Other industries that use it include aerospace, electronics, medical, steel finishing, and tooling.
Tantalum Products From ADMAT
Tantalum is an ideal material choice for applications where long-term corrosion resistance is critical. If you’re looking for a reliable supplier of tantalum products, ADMAT has got you covered. We’ve provided refractory metals, including tantalum, in various forms for over 20 years. This vast experience has allowed us to fully understand the importance and benefits of specialty materials, which is why we are committed to providing our customers the highest quality products. They find use in a range of industrial applications since they are compliant with many industry standards.
Tantalum and niobium are transition metals that are commonly found together in nature. They are often difficult to separate from one another due to their similarities in physical and chemical characteristics. In fact, when tantalum was first discovered in 1802, it was confused with niobium, which was discovered much earlier in 1734. It was not recognized as a separate element until 1864.
While the two materials have many shared properties, there are some key differences between them. Below we highlight each material’s unique characteristics and manufacturing process.
The Characteristics and Manufacturing Process of Tantalum
Tantalum is a dark blue-gray metal that is hard, dense, and ductile. It is also easily fabricated, highly conductive to electricity and heat, and exceptionally resistant to corrosion.
Since tantalum is often found with niobium, it must undergo a separation process before it can be further refined and used. This process involves treating the ore with a mixture of hydrofluoric acid and sulfuric acid at elevated temperatures, which dissolves the tantalum and niobium into complex fluorides. Since other elements are generally present within the ore, the slurry is first filtered and then further processed using a solvent extraction process that uses methyl isobutyl ketone or a liquid ion exchange process that uses an amine extractant in kerosene. The result is a highly purified solution of tantalum, which can be turned into tantalum oxide (Ta2O5) or potassium tantalum fluoride (K2TaF7) as needed.
The Characteristics and Manufacturing Process of Niobium
Niobium—initially known as columbium—is a lustrous gray metal with a high melting point and low density. It is highly ductile and superconductive.
There are two main processes used for niobium production. They are utilized depending on whether pyrochlore or columbite and tantalum-bearing ores are being processed.
Pyrochlore ores undergo a process that converts the niobium oxide into HSLA ferroniobium. The conversion is performed either through an aluminothermic reduction process or by reduction in an electric arc furnace.
Columbite and tantalum-bearing ores undergo the same chemical process outlined in the above section. Typically ammonia is introduced to the purified solution of niobium to convert it into niobium hydroxide. The resulting compound is then washed, filtered, and calcined.
Learn More About Tantalum and Niobium From the Experts at ADMAT
Want to learn more about tantalum and niobium? Ask the experts at ADMAT! As a leading supplier of refractory metals, including tantalum and niobium, we can answer and address any questions or concerns you may have about these materials. If you want to purchase these metals for your next project, request a quote.
If you need a metal rod that can withstand high temperatures and has extremely strong chemical resistance to most corrosive environments then tantalum rod is already on your short list of materials.
Tantalum belongs to a class of metals known as refractory metals, which are defined by their strong resistance to heat and wear. It has a melting point of 5,463 °F (2,996 °C), the fourth highest of all metals. Like most metals, tantalum forms a thin but dense protective oxide layer (Ta2O5) when exposed to the atmosphere. This oxide layer firmly adheres to the surface of the metal, acting as a barrier which protects the underlying metal from further corrosion.
Below are some examples of common applications for tantalum rods. Included with each application are some suggestions based on how others in that industry specify the tantalum rods for such uses. If your application is not on the list, we suggest contacting Admat’s technical sales at 484-322-2091.
Machined fasteners –
Machined tantalum fasteners are bolts, screws, nuts, washers and threaded rods which are fabricated from tantalum metal rods. They replace fasteners made of alternative materials prone to failure or that require expensive equipment shutdowns for maintenance. Tantalum fasteners appear in industries such as mining, energy, and pharmaceuticals as well as in metal and chemical processing. For customers who prefer to make their own fasteners unannealed tantalum rod is most commonly requested. Annealed tantalum rods are sometimes difficult to machine because the metal has a tendency to gum. Unannealed tantalum rods make machining and threading easier. As a service to our customers, Admat also offers machined fasteners to your custom sizes
Vacuum furnace heating elements – Because of tantalum’s oxidation resistance and high melting point, many vacuum furnace components incorporate tantalum rods. Grain stabilized tantalum rod is designed to survive longer in high temperature environments by reducing grain growth. Admat can grain stabilize tantalum rods by producing the product using a powder metallurgy process which creates a very uniform and fine grain size or as an alternative the rods can be produced with very small amounts of additives such a Yttrium. Either method prolongs or prevents the tantalum grains from growing and therefore increases machine life expectancy due to its ability to withstand high temperatures for long periods of time.
Machined parts for chemical processing equipment – Tantalum rods have corrosion-resistant properties which make it a choice material for machined parts used in chemical processing equipment. Tantalum machined parts replace inferior materials that do not perform as well in harsh chemical environments and require extensive maintenance. In most cases customer request tantalum 2.5% tungsten rod which has slightly more strength and corrosion resistance. When ordering tantalum rods for such applications we suggest you order to ASTM B365 R05200 for pure tantalum rods or ASTM B365 R05252 for tantalum 2.5% tungsten rods.
X-ray/radiation shielding – Due to its high density, tantalum’s radio-opaque qualities make it ideal for X-ray and shielding applications seeking to prevent radiation leakage. Tantalum rods are often manufactured into shielding which protect sensitive electronic components in aerospace structures as well as components operating in corrosive environments. There is great variability in the tantalum rods used in applications such as this. Because the shielding is due to tantalum’s density, which is intrinsic, just about any grade of tantalum rod will be functional.
Sputtering Targets for Gun Barrels – Tantalum rods are sometimes used as a sputtering target to coat the inside of gun barrels with tantalum as a replacement for chromium. This makes the gun barrel manufacturing process more environmentally friendly and lets manufacturers reduce their ecological impact. When purchasing tantalum for such an application most customers prefer tantalum rods that are fully annealed, melted in an electron beam furnace (ASTM B365 R05200) and have a 99.95% minimum purity. Some customers have specified tantalum 2.5% tungsten or tantalum 10% tungsten rods.
Tantalum (Ta) is an unsung hero in modern metallurgy. First discovered by the Swedish chemist Anders Ekeberg in 1802, this versatile metal has become essential to numerous industries over the years.
Raw tantalum rarely occurs in nature. Instead, it is typically found in the ore columbite-tantalite (usually referred to as coltan). Once extracted, pure tantalum is a hard blue-gray lustrous metal.
Since its discovery, tantalum has been used in a number of applications. In the 21st century, it has become a crucial element in the electronics industry, with over 75% of electronics containing tantalum in some form. In particular, engineers have been able to take advantage of some of tantalum’s properties to make capacitors and other components smaller and more efficient.
Properties of Tantalum
Tantalum has several unique characteristics that have led to its increased use in the 21st century. It is a highly stable metal that is almost immune to chemical degradation at temperatures lower than 302 °F (159 °C). In addition, it exhibits high levels of corrosion resistance when it comes into contact with air and moisture.
Like most metals, tantalum forms a thin but dense protective oxide layer (Ta2O5) when exposed to the atmosphere. This oxide layer firmly adheres to the surface of the metal, acting as a barrier which protects the underlying metal from further corrosion.
Tantalum belongs to a class of metals known as refractory metals, which are defined by their strong resistance to heat and wear. It has a melting point of 5,463 °F (2,996 °C), the fourth highest of all metals.
In terms of mechanical properties, tantalum is highly ductile, making it suitable for processes such as bending, stamping, and pressing. When combined with other metals, it can produce alloys with enhanced strength and higher melting points.
Common Uses of Tantalum
Tantalum is generally used in applications that require increased heat, corrosion, and chemical resistance. Below is a list of the commonly available forms of tantalum and their most common uses.
Sheet/Plate – Tantalum’s high melting point makes it ideal for high-temperature applications. In sheet form, it is commonly used in linings for columns, vessels, tanks, heat exchangers, and vacuum furnace parts. Thin sheets can also be used for anti-corrosion cladding, repairs, and reinforcement of existing
Rod/Wire – Tantalum is also known for its biocompatibility. In other words, it is a nonirritating element that is not affected by bodily fluids. This property makes tantalum wires a popular material for prosthetic implants and other medical devices. In addition, tantalum wires are commonly used in vacuum furnace heating elements, chlorinator springs, light bulb elements, and chemical processing equipment.
Powder – In its powder form, tantalum is used to produce electrical circuits, capacitors, and resistors, primarily because its superior capacitance allows it to hold more charge per gram than other materials. This has made it possible to develop smaller electrical parts and, by extension, smaller electrical devices.
Tube – Because of their heightened resistance to corrosion, tantalum tubes are often employed in the chemical, petrochemical, and pharmaceutical industries for the processing of compounds that may weaken or destroy other metals. Columns, stacks, and piping are just some of the products constructed from tantalum tubing in these industries.
Strips and foils – Similar to sheets, tantalum strips and foils can be used as liners in vacuum furnaces and heat insulation applications. Thin-gauge tantalum strips can also be deep drawn to manufacture crucibles, cups, and other inert laboratory equipment.
If you buy tantalum, you have surely noticed that tantalum prices are climbing. That’s because demand for the versatile gray metal is quickly escalating. The latest forecasts from industry leaders predict a 4-7 year increase in demand and higher market prices for the ore, capacitor powder, melt stock and mill products.
As smartphone and electronics usage grows in third world nations, an increased requirement of tantalum capacitors will drive powder sales. Turbine engine demand in the Asian-Pacific region will require significant volumes of tantalum for their nickel based super-alloys. These factors combined with growth in the chemical processing, defense and semiconductor markets will likely sustain high tantalum demand and continue to drive ore prices.
Some large tantalum users have already begun protecting themselves by entering into blanket contracts for as long as 24 months. These agreements allow suppliers such as Admat to purchase the raw materials at today’s market price. Finished goods are still shipped and invoiced when the customers releases them.
Another method to cut costs is by shifting the machining or fabrication steps to the tantalum supplier. By reducing product weight by purchasing lighter finished or nearly finished parts a substantial savings could be realized. Tantalum suppliers usually have efficient recycle systems in place which means the turnings or trimmings have a higher scrap value as compared to selling the material to traders yourself.
There is really no way to avoid the higher market prices of tantalum over the next few years, but by taking a few extra steps and working with your supplier, there is the opportunity of putting your business in a better position than the competition. If your business is interested in exploring what options are available to limit your exposure to the higher prices, now is the time to contact your supplier. To discuss your options with Admat, please call 484-322-2091.
Let’s face it, if you’re buying tantalum, it’s probably because you have no choice. Your application likely demands one of the robust characteristics of the metal, such as the unmatched corrosion resistance, or the magnetic shielding properties, or maybe it’s the extremely high melting temperature. Regardless of why you need it, tantalum is always expensive when compared to metals such as steel, copper or even titanium.
One of the simplest ways to cut tantalum expenses is to improve your yields and reduce the amount of scrap you generate.
Why order material in typical rectangular sheet sizes and cut circles out yourself?
Why order plates oversized so you can machine to tolerances yourself?
Why machine parts from square bricks when you can order near finished custom shapes?
Admat specializes in custom shapes and sizes. Whether it’s round, oval, or an octagon with a square hole, Admat can machine or cut to your requirements. Because the scrap is kept internal to the manufacturing plant, it maintains a higher value and therefore saves you money. Tight tolerances are nothing new to Admat. We will review your requirements and quote you a price on a product that we stand behind.
Speak with our sales department today and find out how Admat can improve your tantalum yields.
Hafnium is element 72 on the periodic table. It is a tetravalent transition metal colored silver gray and is often found in zirconium, its sister element. Discovered in 1923 in Copenhagen, it was named after the city’s Latin name, Hafnia.
Hafnium is used in many industries and hi-tech applications. Some of these include: coatings of nuclear materials in power plants, alloying agents in superalloys, coatings on cutting tools and optics, and in the production of semiconductors. Current demand for Hafnium is just 75 to 80 tons a year. Primary sources for Hf raw materials come from Australia, South America, and China. Supply of the material is estimated at 67 to 72 tons per year. A portion of the superalloy demand is fulfilled with scrap and recycled material.
The largest market for hafnium is the superalloy industry. It is estimated that about 55% of demand comes from producers of alloys which are most commonly used in turbine blades for either aircraft engines or land based turbines in power plants. Because engineers are always seeking new space age materials to improve performance, hafnium is expected to see significant growth in this industry. The metal has been shown to allow aircraft engines to run hotter while being safer and using less fuel. Additionally alloys such as C-103*, a Nb-Hf-Ti alloy is commonly used to make rocket nozzles as it stands up to high temperatures and corrosive chemicals.
Another 15% of Hf demand comes from nuclear power plants which use Hf to coat their nuclear fuel. Because the material is able to absorb neutrons, it is ideal for such applications. There are a significant number of nuclear power plants throughout the world, and that number is ever increasing. Hf demand will be strong for this market as the power plants will utilize the material in both the nuclear reactor and the power generating turbine blades used to create electricity. Constant maintenance of these plants will assure the demand for years to come.
There are smaller applications as well. Roughly 8% of demand is for hafnium welding tips for use with plasma torches. Because Hf sheds electrons and can create an arc, it is an ideal material to use in place of tungsten.
Together, demand for hafnium chloride (HfCl4), hafniumoxide> ( HfO2)and pure hafnium for chemical vapor deposition (CVD) and physical vapor deposition (PVD) totals about 22% of the material demand. This accounts for a combination of end uses which include hard and protective coatings on cutting tools and optics, blue lasers for use in DVD players, and high-k dielectrics, where Hf is ideal to improve the miniaturization and reliability of electronic components.
For most electronic applications hafnium with .2 to .5 percent zirconium is used effectively. For select applications customers may require hafnium with less than .1 percent zirconium content. This grade is priced at a premium because of the difficulty and high cost to produce such high purity Hf.
If your business is seeking a reliable partner for the supply of high purity Hf target plates and discs, contact Admat Inc. (www.admatinc.com), a stocking supplier of electronic grade hafnium targets.
*C-103 is a trademark of Allegheny Technologies Inc.
When you call your local metal supplier and ask for a coil of tantalum sheet or a plate of niobium, do they ask you about your application? Do they ask you what type of machining you will be performing or if you’re drawing parts from this material? These are examples of important questions to ask.
If you’re a new customer to Admat, we always ask these questions. Not to be nosy or to take up your time. But, because tantalum and niobium are unique metals which can be manufactured in multiple fashions. After all tantalum and niobium are expensive and we don’t want to sell you something that will not work in your application. For example, a customer using material for stamped parts will want softer metal that is able to be drawn without the surface becoming grainy or tearing, while someone using the material for shielding may want the material stiffer. Some customers use the material for semiconductors and they want exceptional purity of 99.999% pure while others are lining a chemical tank and 98% pure is less expensive and ideal for their job.
We can supply material in multiple tempers, with “as rolled” surfaces, or conditioned surfaces. Admat’s extensive experience with these metals can help you decipher what your material requirements should be, in most cases, just by asking a few questions. Still it is always a good idea to get a basic understanding of the typical standards yourself.
There are so many different specifications of tantalum that one can easily become confused. It’s important to be educated regarding specifications and grades of tantalum and how they apply to the materials.
Admat Incorporated of Norristown, PA has further enhanced their product portfolio to include machined and fabricated parts. Since 1997, Admat has been supplying Tantalum powders and mill products to a variety of industries.
Over the years, Admat has become one of the largest sources of refractory metals in the US. Now they have partnered with a number of skilled and specialized fabricators to offer custom machined parts.
Admat’s management team has the most experience in development, engineering, sales and services in the refractory metal industry. Through the years their team has developed powders for specialty alloys and 3D printing, precision wire products for medical implants, penetrators for missile systems, explosively bonded metals for corrosion prevention, and cutting edge products for semiconductor production, just to name a few.
Eric von Spreckelsen, Admat’s Director of Sales and Operations stated, “All this experience has given Admat a portfolio that is unmatched. No matter what you require, a tube, a rod, a plate or a complex fabricated part, we are the best place to call.” Metals include tantalum, niobium, tungsten, molybdenum and titanium. Their technical know-how allows them to precisely and efficiently manage the raw material production and the subsequent fabrication operations to provide customers the highest quality product in the market today at very competitive prices.
Allen Chang is Admat’s Engineering Manager. Over the past three years he has developed systems and procedures to ensure 100% compliance to specification. Allen directly oversees all fabrication and machining operations and is an asset to the machined parts business at Admat.
Whether your business needs tantalum flanges, molybdenum crucibles, electron beam welded assemblies, threaded rods, or tungsten machined parts, Admat should be your first call. Contact us today!