Forms & Grades Handled
Zirconium Crystal Bars
Zirconium 702 solids (plate, tubes, turnings, briquettes)
Zircaloy 2/4, 705 and equivalent
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 those containing Hf) and alkalis. When it is in its fine form (swarf) it can ignite in air.
It is found in Zircon sand (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, refractory 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
Demand for Zirconium in the nuclear industry is the main driver for the production of Zirconium in metal form. Out of the 1.2 million tonnes of Zircon Sand mined each year, less than 1% of its Zr content ends up as Zr metal.
The majority of Zirconium is used in fuel assemblies for nuclear reactors, due to its low neutron-capture cross-section. For this reason the main global producers of Zirconium have historically been the nuclear powers – USA, Russia, France.
What has changed in the last two decades has been the evolution and proliferation of Zirconium in non-nuclear applications. Examples of intermediate products which use Zirconium include some basic master alloys (AlZr, FeZr, CuZr). These are then used to introduce an exact level of Zr required in final products.
Zirconium in special grades is also finding new commercial use in amorphous alloys, a breed of alloys which are super cooled (cooled very fast) in order to prevent the formation of crystals. Also called bulk metallic glasses, these alloys may be cast into net shapes without finishing and are being exploited in medical and electronics applications.
Lipmann Walton holds stock in many forms of Zirconium, including Zr sponge, Van Arkel crystal bars, segregated production scrap of Zr 702 in sheet/plate off-cuts, cut tubes or clean turnings.
We estimate that world production of Zr is about 6,000 mtpy with current production of Hafnium-free (nuclear grade) in France at about 1600 mtpy (2020) with a similar quantity in the USA spread between Western Zirconium and ATI. The balance of world output is generated by Russia and China, with China emerging now as a producer of de-hafniated Zirconium, although not yet widely approved in nuclear applications.A significant production of >500mt of industrial grade Zirconium (Zr 702) is produced by ATI in USA.