For this reason the main global producers of Zirconium have historically been the nuclear powers – USA, Russia, France.
In recent years non-nuclear applications of Zirconium have grown. There are applications in electronics, Liquid glass, and in a range of alloys where Zr adds strength – AlZr, FeZr, CuZr. The Zr for the alloy uses above are usually supplied via the off-cuts/production scrap generated during manufacture of semi-finish Zirconium products (tube, sheet, assemblies).
It is thought that world production of Zr is about 6,000 mtpy with capacity in France of about 2,600 mt, balance in USA, Ukraine, Russia. China is emerging as a producer but is not yet widely approved in nuclear applications.
It was discovered in 1789 by M.H. Klaproth at the University of Berlin and was isolated in 1824 by J.J. Berzelius in Stockholm.
It has a hard lustrous silvery metal, which is very resistant towards corrosion as its surface is covered by an oxide layer. It is unaffected by acids (except HF) and alkalis. When it is in its fine form (swarf) it can ignite in air.
It is found in Zircon(ZrSiO4) and baddeleyite(ZnO2). Extraction is by chlorination to give ZrCl4. Although it is treated as a rare metal, it is in fact the twelfth most common element in order of abundance, the scarcity being solely caused by extreme difficulty in extraction.
It is used in alloys, coloured glazes and nuclear reactors where it has low neutron absorption properties. Its oxides are used in foundry crucibles, bricks, ceramics and abrasives.
Most of its compounds are complexes of Zr(IV). Zr(IV) oxide (Zirconia) is used as an electrolyte in fuel cells. The metal is also used as electric lamp filaments when the power required per candle power produced is lower than with the tungsten filament lamps.
Relative atomic mass
22.6 W /m/K