Zirconium

What is Zirconium?

Zirconium is a durable, ductile, malleable, and lustrous silver-grey metal. It shares some physical properties with titanium. Moreover, Zirconium has extreme resistance to corrosion and heat. Besides, it is lighter than steel and has similar durability like copper. 

Furthermore, thin shavings of this metal can ignite in air, spontaneously in higher temperature. The powder of this metal is black, and it is a dangerous fire hazard. Additionally, Zirconium does not dissolve in acids and alkalis. 

Physical Properties of Zirconium

1- Zirconium is a hard, grey and shiny metal and it has a flaky surface. Moreover, it has a black or bluish-black like powder. Zirconium is highly flammable in its powder form. 

2- Additionally, the zirconium melting point is 1,857°C, i.e. 3,375°F. Its boiling point is 3,577°C, which is 6,471°F, and its density is 6.5 grams per cubic centimetre.

3- Furthermore, at room temperature, this metal displays a hexagonally close-packed crystal structure, i.e. α-Zr. At 863°C, this α-Zr structure converts to β-Zr and remains the same until it reaches its melting point.

4- Another significant physical property of Zirconium is that it is transparent to neutrons. Due to the transparent property, Zirconium is considered as one of the best materials for nuclear power plants.

Since most of the durable materials available on this planet will catch the passing neutron; thus, compounds that can let a neutron pass through, it is an ideal one for a nuclear power plant. Moreover, zircons will not remove any neutrons from a fission reaction.

Zircaloy, which is an alloy of zircon, has been developed for this purpose. 

5- As mentioned above, zirconium has a high resistance to heat and corrosion.

Chemical Properties of Zirconium

ZR element is mostly an inactive element. If it is exposed to air, it will react with oxygen and produce a thin layer of zirconium oxide. This layer protects it from any further corrosion. Besides, zircon oxide does not react with water or acid. Additionally, it also does not react with any hot acids.

Natural Occurrence of Zirconium

Zirconium is available in abundance in Earth’s surface. It has a concentration of around 130mg/kg in soil and about 0.0256 μg/L in seawater. However, it is not available as a native metal, which reflects its fundamental unsteadiness with respect to water. Additionally, two very well-known ores of Zirconium are – 

  • Zircon or zirconium silicate 

  • Zirconia or zirconia oxide is known as baddeleyite

This metal is found in almost every country on this planet. Moreover, countries like South Africa, Brazil, Australia, Russia, etc. have a large deposit of this compound. Among all of these countries, Australia and South Africa are the biggest producers of this element.

Isotopes of Zirconium

Isotopes are two or more types of any element. Isotopes differ from each other as per their mass number. Additionally, this mass number portrays the number of neutron and protons present within the nucleus of an element. 

Furthermore, there are five natural isotopes of Zirconium, zirconium-90, 91, 92, 94, and 96. Among these isotopes, ZR-94 can undergo double beta decay with its half-life lasting more than 1.10X1017 years. However, this phenomenon has not been witnessed yet experimentally. 

On the other hand, Z-96 has a half-life of 2.4X1019 years. Thus, it is the longest-living isotope of Zirconium. Moreover, among all of these natural isotopes, Z-90 is the most common and easily available one. It is almost 51.45% of all Zirconium that is available. Contrarily, Z-96 is the least common one and around 2.80% of the entire zirconium production.

In addition to its natural isotopes, there are 28 artificial isotopes of Zirconium ranging from 78 to 110 according to their atomic mass. Moreover, Z-93 is the longest living artificial isotope with a half-life of 1.53X106 years. Z-110 is the heaviest isotope, and also the most radioactive one. It has an estimated half-life of 30 milliseconds. 

Typically, radioactive isotopes above 93 mass number decay via electron emission and the ones below 89 deteriorate by positron emission. However, the only exception here is, Zr-88. It decays due to electron capture.

Additionally, 5 isotopes of Zirconium exists as metastable isomers. These are Zr-83, 85, 89, 91, and Zr-90m1 and Zr-90m2. Among these, Zr-90m2 has the shortest half-life of 131 nanoseconds, and Z-89 has the longest one with 4.161 minutes. Moreover, the zirconium electron configuration is: [Kr] 4d² 5s².

Symbol 

Zr

Atomic Number

40

Atomic Mass

91.224 g.mol −1

Electron Configuration

[Kr] 4d² 5s²

Discovered by 

Martin Heinrich Klaproth (1789)


Applications of Zirconium

Some of the prominent Zirconium uses are discussed here.

  • As a Compound

Zircons are primarily used directly in high-temperature applications. It is a hard and refractory chemical that has high resistance against chemicals. Due to the zirconium properties, it has several applications, and some of them are extremely well-known. 

Additionally, they are primarily used as an opacifier, which helps in bringing an opaque and white appearance to ceramic materials. Moreover, owing to chemical resistance, Zirconium is also used in harsh conditions, namely moulds for melted metals. 

Moreover, zirconium dioxides (ZrO2) are used in laboratory crucibles. It is used in metallurgical furnaces and as refractory materials. Since Zirconium is so flexible and flexible, it can be sintered in ceramic knives and others. Additionally, zircon and cubic zirconia are used for jewellery. Furthermore, it is a component in certain abrasives like sandpaper and grinding wheels. 

  • As Metals

A small portion of Zirconium is transformed into metal that has very niche applications. As mentioned above, this substance has a high resistance against corrosion, and it is used to produce alloys that are exposed to harsh environments. Some of the prominent examples are light filaments, surgical appliances, watch cases, etc. 

Moreover, Zirconium’s high reactivity with oxygen at higher temperatures has been exploited in specific applications like explosive primers, getters in vacuum tubes, etc.

Apart from these, another significant application of Zirconium is in nuclear power plants. As mentioned above, Zirconium’s ability to not to catch electrons during fission makes it a suitable material for nuclear plants. Moreover, cladding for such plants consumes only 1% supply of this compound.

Furthermore, the temperature resisting property of this material helps to produce parts of aeroplanes and space engines. Sections of the rocket and aeroplanes that go through extreme temperature and harsh environment are constructed via metals extracted from Zirconium. Jet engines, vanes, blade, combustors, etc. are protected by a thin ceramic layer. This layer is created by a mixture of zirconia and yttria.

  • In Postern emission tomography cameras

Zirconium isotope of ZR-89 is used to track and qualify of molecular antibodies with Positron Emission Tomography cameras or PET. This method is known as “immune-PET”. Additionally, this process has reached its peak of technical development. Hence, it is now entering its widespread phase of clinical applications.

  • Medical usage

This compound is used to produce a wide range of biomedical products. It includes middle-ear ossicular chain reconstruction, knee and hip replacement parts, dental implants and crowns, and many other prosthetic and restorative devices. Additionally, Zirconium is well-known for its ability to bind urea. Thus, it is utilised extensively during the treatment of chronic kidney disease.

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Zirconium is a compound that has a wide range of applications in human life. Besides, it is an essential chapter of chemistry also. However, students often fail to comprehend this chapter due to the lack of an interactive study session.

Hence, they can utilise the official app of Vedantu to attend live and interactive classes provided by subject experts. Additionally, they can access study materials, videos on the topic and sample questions for better preparations.

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FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What is Zirconium?

Ans. Zirconium is a tough, flexible, malleable, and radiant silver-grey metal. It has similar physical properties like titanium. Additionally, Zirconium has extreme resistance to corrosion and heat and it is lighter than steel and has similar durability like copper.

2. How Many Isotopes Does Zirconium Have?

Ans. Zirconium has five natural isotopes, and these are zirconium-90, 91, 92, 94, and 96. Additionally, there are 28 artificial isotopes of Zirconium, ranging from 78-110 according to their atomic mass.

3. What are the Physical Properties of Zirconium?

Ans. The physical properties of Zirconium are, it is a durable and shiny metal. Moreover, it is highly resistant to corrosion and is lightweight. This compound is also highly flammable in its powder form. It is transparent to neutrons. Hence, it is used as cladding in nuclear power plants.

4. What are the Applications of Zirconium?

Ans. Zirconium has a wide range of applications owing to its durable and high resistance to heat and corrosion. Primarily, it is used as a compound to produce various items that require exceptional structural durability. Zirconium in its metal form is mainly used in the aviation industry and nuclear power plants. However, a tiny percentage of total zirconium production is used for nuclear plants.