The Versatile Metal: Zirconium’s Applications in the Chemical Industry

Zirconium is a versatile metal that is widely used in the chemical industry due to its excellent resistance to corrosion. In this article, we will explore some of the many applications of zirconium in the chemical industry.

Properties and Characteristics of Zirconium

Zirconium is a transition metal that is known for its high melting point, low thermal neutron cross-section, and exceptional corrosion resistance. Its atomic number is 40, and it has a silvery-gray color when in its pure form. Zirconium has several characteristics that make it well-suited for use in chemical processes, including:

  • Excellent corrosion resistance: Zirconium is highly resistant to corrosion, making it an ideal material for use in aggressive chemical environments.
  • Solubility: Zirconium is relatively insoluble in water and most common acids and bases, but can dissolve in hydrofluoric acid, which can be useful in certain chemical processes.
  • Oxidation resistance: Zirconium forms a protective oxide layer when exposed to air or water, which enhances its corrosion resistance.
  • Biocompatibility: Zirconium is biocompatible and is often used in medical implants and prosthetics.

Applications of Zirconium in the Chemical Industry

Zirconium has a wide range of applications in the chemical industry, including:

  • Manufacturing of pigments: Zirconium is used as a raw material to produce pigments such as zirconia and zirconium silicate, which are used in the manufacture of ceramics, glass, and tiles.
  • Corrosion-resistant equipment: Due to its exceptional corrosion resistance, zirconium is used in the manufacture of heat exchangers, reaction vessels, and other equipment that comes into contact with corrosive chemicals.
  • Catalysts: Zirconium-based catalysts are widely used in the production of various chemicals, including plastics, rubber, and pharmaceuticals.
  • Nuclear fuel cladding: Zirconium alloys are used as cladding materials for fuel rods in nuclear reactors due to their high strength, low thermal neutron cross-section, and excellent corrosion resistance.
  • Electronics: Zirconium compounds are used in the manufacture of capacitors, resistors, and other electronic components.

Safety Considerations

While zirconium is generally considered safe for use in the chemical industry, there are some safety considerations to keep in mind. These include:

  • Reactivity: Zirconium can react violently with certain chemicals, such as strong oxidizers like chlorine trifluoride or sodium chlorate. Workers should be trained on the safe handling of zirconium and its compounds.
  • Dust inhalation: Zirconium metal and some zirconium compounds can produce fine dust particles when processed or machined, which can be harmful if inhaled. Proper respiratory protection should be used when handling zirconium in powder form.
  • Radioactivity: Zirconium is not inherently radioactive, but it can become so if it is exposed to radiation in a nuclear reactor. Proper handling and disposal procedures must be followed for any zirconium-based materials that have become radioactive.


Zirconium is a versatile metal that has many important applications in the chemical industry due to its exceptional resistance to corrosion, ability to withstand high temperatures, and biocompatibility. Its use in manufacturing pigments, catalysts, corrosion-resistant equipment, nuclear fuel cladding, electronics, and more continues to make it an important material in modern industrial processes. As with any chemical, proper safety precautions must be taken when handling zirconium, but when used properly, it can contribute to safer, more efficient chemical processes.

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Exploring the Properties of Zirconium for Use in Nuclear Reactors

Zirconium is an important material used in the production of nuclear fuel rods for nuclear reactors. In this article, we will explore zirconium’s unique properties that make it an ideal choice for use in nuclear reactors, as well as some of the challenges and concerns associated with its use.

Physical and Chemical Properties of Zirconium Fuel Rods

Zirconium fuel rods are composed primarily of zirconium metal, which has several important physical and chemical properties that make it an ideal material for use in nuclear reactors. These include:

  • High melting point: Zirconium has a high melting point of 1855°C, which makes it able to withstand the extreme temperatures generated by nuclear fission reactions.
  • Low thermal neutron absorption: Zirconium has a low cross section for absorbing thermal neutrons, which are the neutrons that slow down as they collide with other atoms. This makes it an ideal material for use as cladding around fuel pellets, as it does not interfere with the nuclear reactions taking place inside the fuel pellets.
  • Excellent corrosion resistance: Zirconium is highly resistant to corrosion, particularly in high-temperature, high-pressure environments such as those found in nuclear reactors.
  • Good mechanical properties: Zirconium has good mechanical properties, including high strength, ductility, and toughness, which help to ensure the integrity and safety of the fuel rods.

Advantages of Using Zirconium as Nuclear Fuel

The use of zirconium as a nuclear fuel has several advantages, including:

  • High thermal conductivity: Zirconium has a high thermal conductivity, which helps to efficiently transfer heat away from the fuel pellets to the coolant in the reactor.
  • Low neutron absorption: As mentioned earlier, zirconium has a low cross section for absorbing thermal neutrons, which allows the neutrons to pass through the cladding and interact with the fuel pellets, resulting in sustained nuclear reactions.
  • Excellent corrosion resistance: Zirconium is highly resistant to corrosion, which is important in preventing the release of radioactive materials into the environment.
  • Readily available: Zirconium is abundant in the earth’s crust and is relatively easy to mine and process, making it an economically viable choice for use in nuclear reactors.

Disadvantages of Using Zirconium as Nuclear Fuel

However, there are also some disadvantages to using zirconium as nuclear fuel, including:

  • Potential for hydrogen buildup: When zirconium is exposed to water at high temperatures, it can react with the water to produce hydrogen gas, which can build up inside the fuel rods and potentially lead to explosions or other safety issues if not properly managed.
  • Radioactive waste: Like all materials used in nuclear reactors, zirconium fuel rods eventually become radioactive and must be properly disposed of once they are no longer usable. This can be a time-consuming and expensive process.
  • Regulatory concerns: The use of zirconium as nuclear fuel is subject to strict regulatory oversight to ensure the safety of workers, nearby communities, and the environment. Compliance with these regulations can be costly and time-consuming for nuclear power plant operators.

Safety Concerns and Regulations

Due to the potential hazards associated with the use of zirconium as nuclear fuel, there are several safety concerns and regulations in place to ensure the safe operation of nuclear reactors. These include:

  • Inspections and monitoring: Nuclear power plants are subject to regular inspections and monitoring by regulatory agencies to ensure compliance with safety standards.
  • Emergency preparedness plans: Nuclear power plants must have detailed emergency preparedness plans in place in case of an accident or other emergency situations.
  • Worker training and protection: Nuclear power plant workers must undergo extensive training on safety procedures and must be provided with appropriate protective gear and equipment when working with radioactive materials.


Zirconium is a unique and important material in the production of nuclear fuel rods. Its high melting point, low thermal neutron absorption, excellent corrosion resistance, and good mechanical properties make it an ideal choice for use in nuclear reactors. However, there are also some challenges and concerns associated with its use, including the potential for hydrogen buildup, radioactive waste, and regulatory compliance. As such, the use of zirconium as nuclear fuel is subject to strict safety regulations and oversight to ensure the safety of workers, nearby communities, and the environment.

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Application and Prospect Analysis of Zirconium

Zirconium is a metal material with superior physical and chemical characteristics. It is used in a variety of industrial, scientific, and technological applications. The following is an analysis of the uses and prospects of zirconium from different angles.

Zirconium Used in Nuclear Energy

Zirconium is one of the essential elements in the realm of nuclear energy due to its physical characteristics. Fuel rods and structural components for nuclear reactors can be manufactured with zirconium alloys. The high melting point, corrosion resistance, high strength, and high-temperature stability of zirconium alloys make them ideal materials for producing nuclear reactor fuel rods. Statistics show that every year, roughly 50 tons of zirconium alloys are used in the production of nuclear reactors worldwide.

Zirconium Used in Aerospace Industry

Zirconium is frequently utilized in the aerospace industry due to its superior mechanical qualities and strong temperature endurance. Zirconium alloys can be used to create components for aero engines such as blades, nozzles, and combustion chambers. Zirconium alloys can be utilized for a variety of components, including spacecraft hulls, turbines, and combustion chambers. They have exceptional qualities that can enhance spaceship performance, including lightweight, high strength, and high-temperature durability.

Zirconium Use in Medical Field

Zirconium is used extensively in the medical industry. Drugs can be radiolabeled using the zirconium isotope zirconium-89 for the detection and management of certain malignant disorders. Zirconium alloys have high strength, strong biocompatibility, and corrosion resistance, which can increase long-term durability and biological compatibility, and they can also be utilized to make artificial joints, dental implants, and other biomedical materials.

Zirconium Used in Chemical Industry

The chemical sector additionally employs extensive use of zirconium. Zirconium compounds are used in a variety of industries, including oxidants, antiseptics, catalyst supports, and catalysts. Because zirconium alloys offer great corrosion resistance, high-temperature stability, and long-term use in hostile chemical environments, they can also be utilized to make reactors, heat exchangers, reactors, and other equipment.

Zirconium Used in Electronics

Zirconium is also widely used in the field of electronics. Zirconium alloys and zirconates can both be used to create capacitors and battery electrodes, respectively. The primary areas of zirconium used in the electronics sector are nanotechnology and high-temperature superconducting materials. Zirconium can be used as an addition to boost the superconducting temperature and current density of high-temperature superconducting materials. Zirconium is also frequently utilized in nanotechnology and is capable of producing nanotubes, nanocrystals, and nanomaterials.

Zirconium Used in Metal Surface Coating

To stop corrosion and increase the hardness of metal surfaces, zirconium can be utilized in the production of surface coatings. Zirconium alloys can also be used to create metal coatings that are resistant to corrosion at high temperatures and have great corrosion resistance. Zirconium alloys are also perfect for producing drill bits, saw blades, and other tool materials due to their wear durability, and corrosion resistance.

Related reading: Where Zirconium is Used?


To sum up, zirconium has significant uses in the sectors of nuclear energy, aircraft, medical treatment, the chemical industry, electronics, and metal surface coating due to its exceptional physical and chemical qualities. The sustainable development of zirconium and the creation and use of ecologically friendly materials will also become popular trends as people’s awareness of environmental protection rises, further broadening the material’s potential uses.

Hydrogenation Method: A Method for Preparing Zirconium Powder


Hydrogenation is one of the main methods for producing zirconium powder in the industry. This method refers to the process of preparing metal zirconium powder by hydrogenating and dehydrogenating bulk metal zirconium. The product metal zirconium powder prepared by the method has a purity of more than 98%, and can be mainly used in powder metallurgy additives and pyrotechnic industries.

Reaction Process

Zirconium has good plasticity and is difficult to be crushed by mechanical means, but it can be transformed into a brittle intermediate product zirconium hydride for further processing.

When hydrogen is sufficient, zirconium reacts with hydrogen to form zirconium hydride, releasing a lot of heat. The reaction formula is:


When dehydrogenated by heating under a vacuum, zirconium hydride decomposes into metallic zirconium. The reaction formula is:


Zirconium hydride is a non-stoichiometric substance in the interstitial phase, and the hydrogen content (x) can vary from zero to 2 with different process conditions. When x>1.65, it is brittle zirconium hydride, and the brittleness increases with the increase of x value. Zirconium powder can be obtained by grinding the brittle zirconium hydride finely and then dehydrogenating it in a high-temperature vacuum.

According to the requirements for product purity, the bulk zirconium raw materials used for hydrogenation include sponge zirconium, zirconium ingots, or zirconium scraps in zirconium processing; in order to ensure product quality, high-purity hydrogen must be used; the hydrogenation process should be in a well-airtight environment in a stainless steel reaction tank.

Specific steps are as follows:

  • After the reaction tank is filled, vacuum until the pressure is lower than 0.1Pa, heat to a temperature of 873-973K, and stop vacuuming.
  • Introduce high-purity hydrogen for hydrogenation. Sponge zirconium and zirconium shavings have a large specific surface area, which can be met by hydrogenation once. The dense zirconium with a large size needs to undergo multiple hydrogenation and dehydrogenation treatments at high temperatures to make it fully burst to ensure that the product is easy to grind. As long as the temperature and pressure of the hydrogenation process are well controlled, zirconium hydride with the desired hydrogen content can be obtained.
  • After the hydrogenation reaction is completed, continue to pass hydrogen to cool to room temperature, then extract the residual hydrogen, slowly fill in argon or air, and start unloading.
  • Put block zirconium hydride into a grinding tank, add the appropriate amount of water or ethanol to grind, then sieve and dry to get zirconium hydride powder. This zirconium hydride powder can be used as a heat-burning agent or powder metallurgy additive.
  • Spread the dried zirconium hydride powder into a thin layer in a tray, then put it into a dehydrogenation tank, and heat it slowly under a vacuum. Zirconium hydride releases a large amount of hydrogen at a temperature of about 673K.
  • When the temperature rises to 873-973K and the vacuum pressure reaches below 0.1Pa again, cool the dehydrogenation tank to room temperature, slowly pour water or ethanol into it, and then unload.
  • After grinding, sieving, and drying, the product zirconium powder is obtained.


The zirconium powder produced by this method can maintain the content of metal impurities at the level of the raw material while ensuring that it is not contaminated by the container, and the content of some volatile impurities will be reduced, but the content of gas impurities, especially oxygen, will be reduced. Increase. The average particle size of zirconium powder can reach 5-10μm, and finer particle sizes can be separated through liquid countercurrent classification. The finer the particle size of the zirconium powder, the higher the oxygen content.


Zirconium powder, zirconium hydride powder, and hydrogen are flammable and explosive substances, and fine zirconium powder can oxidize, spontaneously ignite or explode even at room temperature. Explosion-proof measures should be taken during the production, storage, transportation, and use of zirconium powder to ensure safety.

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4 Methods for Making Metal Zirconium

Zirconium and its alloys not only have good machinability, moderate mechanical strength, and high corrosion resistance, but also have a low neutron cross-section. In the nuclear energy industry, they are widely used as structural materials for water reactors. Zirconium widely exists in zircon, so most methods of preparing metal Zr use zircon as a raw material for extracting zircon. This article will mainly introduce four methods for purifying zirconium.

Metal Thermal Reduction Method

The reducing agents used in the thermal reduction method are mainly calcium and magnesium.

(1) Calcithermic reduction

Using ZrO2 as raw material and calcium as a reducing agent, the reduction reaction is carried out at 1273-1373K under vacuum. The reduction product is a powdery mixture of Zr, CaCl2, CaO, and Ca, which can be pickled, washed with water, filtered, dried, and sieved to obtain metal zirconium.

(2) Magnesium reduction method

The magnesium reduction method mainly includes steps such as the preparation of zirconium tetrachloride, purification, magnesium reduction, and vacuum distillation. Chloride zirconium dioxide or zircon sand to obtain zirconium tetrachloride, purify, remove impurities such as SiCl4, TiCl4, AlCl3, FeCl3, and then use molten magnesium to reduce ZrCl4 to obtain a mixture of metal zirconium, magnesium, and magnesium chloride, and finally, Zirconium metal is obtained by distillation and purification.

Zirconium Ores


This method uses the reversible absorption characteristics of zirconium to hydrogen to prepare zirconium powder. At a certain temperature, zirconium and zirconium alloys absorb hydrogen to form hydrides or solid solutions. When reaching a certain level, the material will produce microcracks, become brittle, and contain a lot of hydrogen. Such powder is called zirconium hydride powder. Zirconium hydride powder is dehydrogenated under high temperature and vacuum conditions to obtain zirconium powder. After years of improvement and promotion, this method has become the main method for producing zirconium powder.

Molten Salt Electrolysis

Metals or alloys that are difficult to electrodeposit in an aqueous solution usually use molten salt electrodeposition. Insoluble anodes are usually used, stainless steel or other refractory metals are used as cathodes, and molten salts of electrodeposited metals and alkali metal chlorides or fluorides are used as electrolytes. During the electrolytic reduction process, they are decomposed by the electrolytic metal molten salts. and deposited at the cathode.

Direct Electro-Deoxidation Method

The direct electro-deoxidation method uses a single or mixed metal oxide as the raw material, presses it into a block as the cathode, removes the oxygen in the cathode by electrolytic deoxidation, and obtains a metal element or alloy with low impurity content in a high-temperature molten salt, also known as FFC Law. The metals successfully prepared by the FFC method include Zr, Hf, Be, Mg, Ca, Ba, V, Nb, W, Fe, and Cu.

Among the four methods, the magnesium reduction method and hydrogenation-dehydrogenation method are the main production methods in the industry.

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The Importance of Surface Coatings for Zirconium Alloy Cladding

Safety Issues in The Application of Zirconium Alloys

In the past few decades, zirconium alloy cladding has been successfully applied to light water reactors (LWR), and has shown good radiation resistance and corrosion resistance. However, a major problem in the application of zirconium alloys in stacks is that they react violently with water vapor at high temperatures, and when the temperature is greater than 1200 °C, a large amount of hydrogen and heat will be released. After the Fukushima nuclear power accident in Japan, the safety of nuclear power has once again been placed in front of all nuclear workers. How to further improve the safety and reliability of light water reactor nuclear fuel elements under accident conditions has become an urgent problem to be solved. Research and development directions include accident-resistant fuel cores and accident-resistant cladding materials.


Cladding Material for Zirconium

The accident-resistant cladding material has good thermodynamic properties, which can improve the reaction kinetics of zirconium and water vapor and reduce the hydrogen release rate. The development of this material is mainly reflected in two aspects: one is to improve the high-temperature oxidation resistance and strength of the zirconium alloy cladding; the other is to develop non-zirconium alloys with high strength and oxidation resistance. This paper discusses the research on the surface coating of zirconium alloy cladding for the former.

The main advantage of the application of coated zirconium cladding is economical. The technical challenge it faces is to meet various performance requirements of the fuel cladding and components without changing the size of the fuel cladding. During long-term operation, the coating should have certain stability under corrosion, creep, and abrasion conditions.

Research Status of Zirconium Alloy Cladding Surface Coating

The anti-oxidation coating technology on the surface of zirconium alloy is the main method to improve the anti-oxidation ability of the surface of zirconium cladding. The outer surface of the zirconium alloy is coated with a layer of material to enhance the wear resistance and high-temperature oxidation resistance of the cladding, thereby improving the accident resistance of the zirconium cladding under normal working conditions and accident conditions. At present, some preliminary screening results have been obtained in international research on the surface coating of zirconium alloy cladding, and the coating materials mainly involve MAX phase and metal Cr.

MAX-phase coating

A series of studies have shown that:

  1. The essence of the MAX phase coating is the dressing effect, and the key to the problem is to solve the diffusion of oxygen atoms to the zirconium substrate.
  2. No matter whether in a fast neutron reactor or thermal neutron reactor, under the three activation time conditions, the activity of MAX phase material is similar to that of SiC, but three orders of magnitude lower than that of 617 alloys.
  3. The thickness of the MAX phase coating should be controlled at 10~30 μm to limit the loss of neutrons.
  4. Ti3SiC2 shows better prospects than Ti2AlC as a candidate material for MAX-phase coatings for high-temperature nuclear energy applications.
  5. At room temperature, the radiation resistance of Ti3AlC2 is better than that of Ti3SiC2, and the radiation stability of the two MAX phase materials at 600 ℃ is better than that at room temperature.
Metal Cr Coating

A series of studies have shown that:

  1. The high-temperature oxidation resistance of the coated zirconium alloy is obviously better than that of the Zr-4 substrate.
  2. The high-temperature oxidation resistance of the coated zirconium alloy is significantly stronger than that of the zirconium alloy substrate, and the Cr-coated zirconium cladding has better ductility.
  3. The metal Cr coating has good high-temperature oxidation resistance and can be used as a candidate coating material for accident-resistant zirconium alloy cladding.

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3 Manufacturing Methods of Zirconium-containing Refractories

What is Zirconium-containing Refractory Material?

Zirconium-containing refractory materials are made of zirconia (ZrO2) and zircon (ZrSiO4) as raw materials. “Zirconium-containing” usually refers to materials containing the following zirconium products: zirconia, zircon, zirconium mullite and zirconium corundum. Zirconium-containing products have good corrosion resistance to various molten metals, acidic reagents and liquid glass.

Zirconium-containing refractory materials can be divided into the sintered, fused cast, and non-fired products based on different manufacturing methods.

What are the Different Manufacturing Methods?

Sintered Zr-Containing Refractory Product

The basic steps to manufacture zirconium-containing sintered bricks are to prepare raw materials, press green bodies, and sinter at high temperatures.

Another method is to obtain blanks by granulation, kneading, machine pressing or extrusion molding, and the clinker fired at high temperature is used as aggregate, and the clinker fine powder is used for batching, kneading, molding, drying, and sintering to finally obtain the finished product.

Cast Zr-Containing Refractory Product

1) Use zircon concentrate or industrial zirconia and industrial alumina powder as raw materials.

2) Add sodium oxide, calcium oxide, boron oxide and rare earth metal oxides as additives.

3) The powder is melted at a temperature above 2500°C by means of electric arc melting, cast in a mold, cooled, annealed, and machined.

Non-fired Zr-Containing Refractory Product

The manufacturing process of zirconium-containing refractory products without firing is simple, and the product qualification rate is high.

1) Use stabilized zirconia clinker or zircon as raw material.

2) Use water glass, phosphoric acid, phosphate, or sulfate as the cementing agent.

3) Mix the raw materials and cementing agents, and undergo high-pressure molding and low-temperature heat treatment to make zirconium-containing non-fired materials.

The heat treatment temperature varies with different binders. When aluminum dihydrogen phosphate is used as the cement, the heat treatment temperature is about 300°C; when phosphoric acid is used as the cement, the heat treatment is carried out at a temperature of about 600°C.

What Are These Products Used for?

Zirconium-containing refractory products can be widely used in metallurgy, building materials, the chemical industry, machinery and other professional fields due to their high refractoriness, mechanical strength and chemical stability.

  • Zirconia bricks can be used in thermal equipment in the building materials industry and metallurgical industry, such as billet continuous casting sizing nozzles, submerged nozzles and slag lines in long nozzles.
  • Zircon bricks are resistant to low-alkali glass corrosion. They can be used for the kiln wall of the glass melting furnace, as well as the arch feet of the upper structure of the glass melting furnace or the intermediate transition layer between silica bricks and corundum bricks.
  • Zirconia-mullite fused cast bricks can be used in heating furnaces, soaking furnaces in the metallurgical industry, glass melting furnaces in the building materials industry, etc.
  • Zirconium corundum bricks have good resistance to melt erosion. As a high-grade abrasive, it has a good grinding effect on steel, cast iron, heat-resistant steel, and various alloy materials.

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10 Common Zirconium Products and Their Applications

1. Zirconium Silicate

Zirconium silicate is an important variety in traditional zirconium products. The product is made of zircon sand, which can be obtained after grinding, calcining and powdering. It is a high-quality and cheap opacifying agent for ceramic glazes.

Zirconium silicate is mainly used for color glazes of architectural ceramics, daily-use ceramics and electric porcelain. It is also widely used in high-grade refractory materials, precision casting, emulsified glass and other industries.

2. Zirconium Carbonate

Zirconium carbonate is a source of zirconium that is insoluble in water but is easily transformed into other zirconium compounds. It is mainly used as an additive for cosmetics, waterproofing agent, flame retardant, opacifying agent, and surface aid for fibers and paper, and can also be used to prepare zirconium-cerium composite catalytic materials. It is an important raw material in the textile, papermaking, paint, and cosmetic industries, and its consumption has been increasing in recent years.

3. Zirconium Oxychloride

Zirconium oxychloride is the main raw material for the production of other zirconium products such as zirconium dioxide, zirconium carbonate, zirconium sulfate, composite zirconium oxide, and the separation of zirconium and hafnium to prepare metal zirconium and hafnium. In addition, it can be used in textiles, leather, rubber additives, metal surface treatment agents, paint drying agents, refractory materials, ceramics, catalysts, fire retardants, and other products. The primary source material for zirconium oxychloride is zircon sand.

4. Fused Zirconia

Fused zirconia is mainly used in the production of glazes and refractory materials. Due to the high content of impurities in fused zirconium, its use is sometimes limited.

5. Zirconium Sulfate

Zirconium sulfate is an intermediate raw material for the production of zirconium chemicals and metal zirconium and hafnium. It is also an important raw material for the production of leather tanning agents, wool treatment agents and paint surface oxidants. Additionally, it can be used as a catalyst carrier, amino acid and protein, precipitant and deodorant.

Consumption Structure of Zirconium Products
Consumption Structure of Zirconium Products

6. Zirconium Dioxide

Zirconium dioxide, or zirconia, is a non-toxic, odorless white solid. It has sufficient stability in alkaline solutions and many acidic solutions. ZrO2 ceramic is suitable for precision ceramics, electronic ceramics, optical lenses, glass additives, electrolytic zirconia bricks, ceramic pigments, enamel, artificial gemstones, refractory materials, grinding and polishing and other industries and products.

7. Composite Zirconia

Composite zirconia, referring to stabilized zirconia, is a non-toxic, odorless white powder. It has stable chemical properties and controllable specific surface area. It is the basic raw material for the manufacture of various special ceramics, advanced refractory materials, optical communication devices, and new energy materials.

8. Nuclear Grade Zirconium

Nuclear-grade zirconium is mainly used as the structural material of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, and civil power reactors, and the cladding of uranium fuel elements. It is an important strategic metal.

9. Industrial Grade Zirconium

Industrial-grade zirconium is mainly used in the production of chemical acid and alkali-resistant equipment, the military industry, the electronics industry, pipeline valve materials, special high-strength, and high-temperature alloy materials, and getters for electric vacuum and lighting bulb industries.

10. Metallurgical Grade Zirconium

Metallurgical grade zirconium is used as a firearms sponge zirconium combustion agent and is also suitable for alloy additives and metallurgical deoxidizers, the chemical industry, civilian flash fireworks, etc.


Purification of Zirconium by Vacuum Distillation

Vacuum distillation refers to the process of removing metal magnesium and MgCl2 in sponge zirconium by distillation under the condition of lower pressure than normal pressure. The zirconium sponge produced by distillation is then vacuum cast into metal or alloy, which is used in industrial sectors such as atomic energy, metallurgy, and chemistry.

Principle of Vacuum Distillation

The raw material of vacuum distillation is generally the product of the reduction of zirconium tetrachloride and magnesium, containing 55% to 60% of zirconium, 25% to 30% of magnesium, 10% to 15% of MgCl2 and a small amount of Zrcl3 and ZrCl2.

The vapor pressures of these components are different at a certain temperature and pressure. For example, in the standard state, the boiling point of magnesium is 1380K, MgCl2 is 1691K, and zirconium is 4673K; at normal pressure and 1173K temperature, the equilibrium vapor pressure of magnesium is 13332.2Pa, MgCl2 is 999.9Pa, and zirconium is less than 130μPa. Therefore, by controlling the appropriate distillation temperature and pressure, zirconium and other components can be separated.

In addition, under a 10Pa vacuum, the boiling points of magnesium and magnesium chloride dropped to 789K and 950K, respectively, and the volatilization rate was many times greater than that of atmospheric distillation. Therefore, the use of vacuum distillation can shorten the distillation time, reduce the distillation temperature, improve the separation effect, and avoid the formation of Zr–Fe alloys that contaminate the zirconium sponge and iron.

System for vacuum distillation

The vacuum distillation system is mainly composed of a distillation furnace, a distillation tank, a condensation sleeve, a condenser, a heat shield, and a vacuum system.

According to the installation position of the condenser, it can be divided into two types: upper cooling type and lower cooling type, and the structure of the two is basically the same. In industrial production, the distillation furnace and the reduction reactor are the same. Therefore, the structural design and material selection of the reduction reactor should take into account the requirements of the reduction and distillation processes.


The condenser is a hoistable bell-shaped cylindrical tank with a cooling water jacket. The condensing sleeve is cylindrical, and the condensing area is set according to the amount of condensate discharged by distillation. A heat shield is arranged between the distillation tank and the condenser, the function of which is to reduce the radiant heat from the heating area to the condenser, without hindering the passage of the airflow escaping from the distillation tank. In order to improve the thermal insulation effect, most of the heat shields are multi-layer structures.

The structure of the distillation furnace is the same as that of the reduction reactor, but the furnace shell of the former should be sealed and connected to a vacuum device. During operation, the furnace is in a low vacuum state to reduce the external pressure on the distillation tank and prevent the latter from deforming.

Process of vacuum distillation

  • The reducing crucible together with the reaction product is placed upside down in the distillation pot of the distillation furnace.
  • The distillation tank was evacuated to 13.3-1mPa, and then the distillation furnace was heated to a temperature of 573-673K and kept at a constant temperature for 1-4 hours to remove the crystal water adsorbed by MgCl2 during the assembly process of the distillation equipment.
  • Then the furnace temperature was raised to 1023-1073K. At this time, since the metal magnesium and MgCl2 begin to volatilize in large quantities, the vacuum degree drops sharply, and the heating rate needs to be controlled well.
  • After the distillation enters the constant temperature stage, the temperature should be controlled at 1223-1273K.
  • After 20-25 hours of constant temperature, when the vacuum in the distillation tank rises to less than 1Pa and tends to be stable for a certain period of time, the residual amount of volatiles is very small, and the distillation operation is over.

In the whole distillation process, process parameters such as distillation temperature, vacuum degree and distillation time should be well controlled. It takes about 50 to 60 hours to distill 700 to 800 kg of zirconium. The zirconium sponge produced by distillation is self-igniting. When the distillation tank is cooled to 323K temperature, a mixed gas consisting of 60% dry air and 40% indoor air should be slowly introduced to reduce the surface activity of the sponge zirconium and make it passivated before it is released.

Product handling after vacuum distillation

Zirconium sponge is a hard and tough metal. Usually, the zirconium lump is cut into pieces by a vertical hydraulic press equipped with a cutter, and then it is medium and finely crushed to make the particle size reach 5-25mm, and then sieved, classified, mixed in batches, and packed with argon. The typical impurity content (mass fraction ω/%) of sponge zirconium is Fe 0.08, Al 0.006, Mg 0.002-0.02, Cl 0.001-0.04, O 0.08-0.1, N 0.002-0.004.

Sponge zirconium taken out from the reduction crucible can be divided into four types: A, B, C, and D.

  • A type of zirconium sponge accounts for about 35% of the total and is a bulk dense metal that contains almost no metal magnesium and MgCl2.
  • B-type zirconium sponge accounts for about 20% of the total. It is the product formed in the initial stage of the reaction, which is plate-shaped and about 10mm thick. In addition to metal magnesium, it contains a lot of iron and nitrogen impurities.
  • C-type sponge zirconium accounts for about 35% of the total, is a light and porous sponge with the least impurities but contains a considerable amount of metal magnesium and chloride in the pores.
  • D-type zirconium sponge is a product that is close to the crucible wall and contains a lot of impurities. Generally, it is returned to the chlorination treatment to recover the zirconium in it.

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What are Zirconium Containing Refractory Materials?

Description of zirconium-containing refractory products

Zirconium-containing refractory products refer to refractory products made of zirconia (ZrO2) and zircon (ZrSiO4) as raw materials, including zirconia products, zircon products, zirconium mullite, and zirconium corundum products. According to different production processes, zirconium-containing refractory products are divided into sintered products, fused cast products, and non-fired products. Zirconium-containing refractory products have the characteristics of high melting point, low thermal conductivity, and good chemical stability, especially good corrosion resistance to molten glass and liquid metal.

Properties of zirconium-containing refractory products

Dense, stabilized zirconia has a melting point of 2677°C and a service temperature of 2500°C. The bulk density fluctuates between 4.5 and 5.5 g/cm3 due to the purity of the raw materials and the different manufacturing methods. The bulk density of dense zirconia products can reach 5.75g/cm3. Sintered zirconia products do not chemically react with molten metal and liquid glass. Caustic alkali solutions, carbonate solutions, and acids (except concentrated H2SO4 and HF) do not chemically react to zirconia. When carbon reacts with sintered zirconia, zirconium carbide is formed only on the surface. Therefore, under the condition of oxidizing atmosphere, zirconia products can be used at high temperatures without chemical change.

The main component of zircon products is ZrO2•SiO. Zircon is decomposed into ZrO2 and SiO when heated at 1680℃. Quartz stone products have good corrosion resistance to various molten metals, acidic reagents, and liquid glass, but they are prone to erosion reactions when they come into contact with alkaline slag or alkaline refractory materials. Aluminum-zirconium-silicon (AZS) cast bricks and fired bricks have good resistance to glass liquid erosion, and can be used in the pool wall and upper structure of glass melting pool kilns.

zirconium-containing refractory products     

Uses of zirconium-containing refractory products

Zirconium-containing refractory products have high refractoriness, mechanical strength, and chemical stability. It can be widely used in metallurgy, building materials, the chemical industry, machinery, and other professional fields.

Zircon bricks have good resistance to acid slag, small corrosion loss, and slight sticking of slag. They can be used in the slag line of the ladle and have a long service life. Zircon products can also be used as continuous-casting intermediate tank base bricks, cushion bricks, and nozzle bricks. Zircon bricks are corrosion-resistant to low alkali glass and can be used in the kiln walls of glass-melting furnaces. It can also be used for the arch foot of the upper structure of the glass melting furnace or the intermediate transition layer between the silica brick and the corundum brick and is also an important material for the comprehensive masonry bottom.

Zirconia bricks can be used in thermal equipment for the building materials industry and metallurgical industry, such as sizing nozzles for billet continuous casting, submerged nozzles, and slag lines in long nozzles.

Fused-cast bricks with a ZrO2 content of more than 90% can be used for side walls, partition walls and flow holes of borosilicate glass melting furnaces and aluminosilicate glass melting furnaces. AZS-fired bricks and fused cast bricks can be used in soda-lime glass melting kilns, such as flow holes and side walls. The use of this brick to build liquid flow holes and side walls can reduce the contamination of glass liquid by refractory materials. In addition, zirconium mullite fused cast bricks can be used in the metallurgical industry heating furnaces, soaking furnaces, glass melting furnaces in the building materials industry, etc.

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