A naturally occurring metallic element, tantalum features several unique properties that have led to its increasing use in a range of modern industrial applications. In addition to being highly resistant to corrosion and chemical degradation, tantalum is also extraordinarily resistant to heat and general wear. In fact, tantalum has a melting point of 5463 °F (2996 °C), the fourth highest of all metals.
Along with high malleability and ductility, these attributes make tantalum a valuable resource in numerous industrial applications.
Tantalum Applications and Industries
Electronics industry — Tantalum is widely regarded for its exceptional ability to store more charge per gram than other comparable metals. This makes tantalum ideal for the production of electrical capacitors and resistors, while the ability to hold substantial amounts of charge in a small component has made it possible for electronics manufacturers to miniaturize electrical parts and devices.
Automobiles — Tantalum is also well suited to automotive electronic systems. Components such as ignition and transmission systems regularly operate at high temperatures and, therefore, demand materials — such as tantalum — that are highly reliable in these environments. Other automotive tantalum uses include mechanisms such as GPS systems, anti-lock braking systems (ABS), and airbags, which require extremely low failure rates.
Medical equipment — Tantalum is also well known for its biocompatibility. In other words, the metal does not produce toxic products or trigger adverse immunological responses when exposed to the body or bodily fluids. This makes tantalum ideal for pairing with living tissue in medical implants and prosthetics.
Satellites and space rockets — The capacitors aboard space satellites are manufactured from tantalum components, as they offer good electrical storage capacity, require minimal maintenance, and involve relatively low costs. In fact, NASA has been continuously working with tantalum-based composite materials to reduce heat flux in spacecraft during planetary reentry.
Oil and gas exploration — Oil and gas operations — extractions, in particular — regularly subject machines and tools to excessively high temperatures and pressures, while also exposing the equipment to corrosive sour gases such as hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and carbon dioxide (CO2). Tantalum, therefore, is very well suited for this industry thanks to its extremely high melting point and ability to resist most forms of chemical attack.
Military and aerospace — When combined with specific metals, tantalum produces a class of metal known as superalloys. These alloys are capable of withstanding extreme temperature and stresses, such as those found in turbine engines in commercial and military aircraft. Parts and components manufactured from these materials allow for higher internal combustion temperatures and greater thrust efficiencies.
Other types of tantalum alloy combinations are used in nuclear reactors, missile parts, chemical processing equipment, heat exchangers, and storage tanks.
Tantalum is available in various forms, each lending itself to different industrial applications. For instance, tantalum in its powder form is best suited for use in electrical capacitors, while sheets are commonly used to line columns, vessels, and vacuum furnace parts. Some of the most common forms of tantalum are listed below.
- Sinter bar
- Grain stabilized
- Sputtering target
Considering Tantalum Properties and Uses
Tantalum has revolutionized the way we manufacture electronics, tools, and other types of industrial equipment. The metal’s many unique properties — such as high melting point, corrosion resistance, hardness, and resistance to chemical attack — make it ideal for wide range of industrial applications.
To ensure compatibility with the application at hand, it’s important to carefully consider the various forms of tantalum available and the distinct benefits offered by each, as well as familiarize oneself with key tantalum facts and characteristics.
Image Credit: beejung/Shutterstock.com