Zirconium is a transition metal with many interesting properties, that set it apart from other metals and make it useful in special applications in which ordinary metals would be unsuitable. These properties include an extremely high melting point (1,855°C), an incredible resistance to corrosion by acids and alkalis, and a low neutron capture cross-section that makes it well suited for use in the nuclear energy industry.
As a chemical element, zirconium appears on the Periodic Table of Elements under the symbol Zr and the atomic number 40. Zirconium is not found in its pure form naturally, and occurs only in the form of ores and minerals in the Earth’s crust – like zircon, the mineral which gives zirconium its name. Once mined, these ores and minerals can be reduced by chemical processes into pure zirconium. While an intensive and expensive process, this reduction is well worth the effort – once purified, the remarkable properties of zirconium are revealed.
What is a Zirconium Sheet?
At room temperature and pressure, zirconium is a soft, malleable silver-coloured metal. This allows pure zirconium to be rolled into sheets, creating a thin sheet uniformly composed of pure zirconium metal. As it is made from pure zirconium, a zirconium sheet has the advantages of resistance to corrosion by acids, alkalis, solvents and other caustic substances, including seawater, with the one notable exception of hydrofluoric acid, which can cause corrosion in zirconium sheeting. This is thanks to a nanometre-thick passivation layer which naturally forms on the surface of the zirconium sheet, protecting it from oxidation and reactions with other chemicals.
Zirconium sheet also has a very high melting point, only melting at 1,855°C. As a result of this, a pure zirconium sheet remains solid when many other metals are fully liquid, and is ideal for use in very high-temperature environments.
What is a Zirconium Sheet Made From?
The zirconium sheet from Special Metals is made from pure zirconium metal, ensuring an industry-leading degree of uniformity and purity across the sheet. Zirconium is an elemental transition metal, with a spot on the Periodic Table of Elements marked by the symbol Zr. Its atomic weight is 40, and it is closely related to titanium and hafnium, which it often appears alongside in the Earth’s crust. Zirconium naturally occurs in the Earth’s crust exclusively as ores and minerals, which must be reduced after mining to produce pure zirconium.
What are the Advantages of Zirconium Sheet?
Zirconium sheets from Special Metals UK have a number of advantages over sheets of other metals. For starters, zirconium is quite soft and malleable at room temperature and pressure, making our zirconium sheet easy to work with. Pure elemental zirconium also has a very high melting point, making it ideal for use in high-temperature applications like refractories, furnaces and as cladding on jet engines and nuclear reactors.
Resistant to corrosion by acids, alkalis and solvents, and even able to resist the corrosion caused by seawater, zirconium sheet is the ideal choice for cladding when caustic environments and high temperatures must be contended with.
What is Zirconium?
Zirconium is an element on the Periodic Table of Elements, and a transition metal. Zirconium was named for its most abundant and economically important ore, zircon, which has been known since ancient times. Zircon got its own name from the ancient Persian word for something gold-coloured, “zargun”, thanks to its shine and hue.
Zirconium is found in the Earth’s crust exclusively in the form of ores like zircon, and is mostly mined in South Africa and Australia, with other countries contributing significant, but smaller, amounts. Closely related to the transition metals titanium and hafnium, zirconium is commonly found alongside them, and must be separated from them by chemical processes during the purification process.
Pure zirconium is a silver-grey colour, and is shiny and soft at room temperature. Malleable and ductile, pure zirconium can be easily sintered or machined into components for use or alloyed with other metals. Zirconium compounds are also industrially important, and are commonly used in ceramics, abrasives, jewellery, thermal barriers, manufacturing, as an opacifier and in explosives.
Where is Zirconium Found?
Zirconium is found as a naturally-occurring element in the Earth’s crust, and also, interestingly, on the Moon. The zirconium which occurs in the Earth’s crust appears only in the form of ores and minerals, like zircon and rutile, and must be purified and reduced before it yields pure zirconium.
Zirconium is predominantly mined in South Africa and Australia, with other nations like Russia, Brazil, India and the United States of America contributing significant amounts to the world’s supply. Several other countries operate titanium mines with zirconium as a by-product, or produce their own small supplies.
What are the Characteristics of Zirconium?
Zirconium is a silver-coloured, lustrous metal which is soft and malleable at room temperature. Zirconium has an extremely high melting point, at 1,855°C, and resists corrosion by most common acids and alkalis, with the notable exception of hydrofluoric acid.
These characteristics make zirconium sheet the ideal material to use as cladding for more vulnerable components, and an exceptionally low neutron capture cross-section makes a zirconium sheet the perfect material for use in cladding nuclear fuel in fission reactors, protecting the fuel from joining the reaction prematurely while not absorbing too much of the neutron supply needed to keep the reaction going. The very high melting point is also a necessary feature here, as many other metals would melt completely in the temperatures within a nuclear power reactor.
Contact Special Metals UK for Zirconium Sheets
If you would like to know more about the zirconium sheet available from Special Metals UK, you can get in touch with us at any time using our contact number, 01268 820409, or by using the Enquiry form on this page! The metals experts at our head office have decades of experience and will be able to help you find the zirconium sheet solution that is perfect for your needs.