What Are the Main Industrial Uses of Zircon?

Zircons are highly resistant to high temperatures and acid corrosion, and their melting can reach 2,750℃. 80% of the world’s zircons are used directly in the foundry, ceramics, glass, and refractory industries, while a small amount is used in ferroalloys, pharmaceuticals, paint, leather, abrasive, chemical, and nuclear industries. The main industrial uses of zircon are as follows.

Zircon sand

Zircon sand containing ZrO2 65~66% is directly used as casting material for the iron metal in foundry due to its melting resistance (melting point above 2500℃). Zircon sand has a lower thermal expansion, higher thermal conductivity, and stronger chemical stability than other common refractory materials, and high-quality zircon and other adhesives have a good bond and are used in the foundry industry. Zircon sand is also used as bricks in glass kilns. Zircon sand and powder are mixed with other refractory materials for other purposes.

Zircon sand

Zirconium oxide

Zirconium and dolomite react together at high temperatures to produce zirconia or zirconium oxide (ZrO2). Zirconium oxide is also a good melting material, although its crystal shape varies with temperature. Stable zirconium oxide also contains small amounts of oxides of magnesium, calcium, scandium, or yttrium. The stable melting point of zirconium oxide is close to 2700℃, and it is more resistant to thermal shock than zirconium in some metallurgical applications. Stable zirconium oxide has low thermal conductivity, and the use of hafnium dioxide as fusible in industrial zirconium oxide is harmless.

Zirconium metal

Zirconium metal is mainly used in the chemical and nuclear reactor industries, as well as in other industries requiring corrosion resistance, high-temperature resistance, special fusion properties or special neutron absorption. In the United States, about 8% of the total consumption of zirconium metal is used in these industries, while the only meaningful application of the hafnium metal is in the nuclear reactors of warships.

zirconium metal

Zirconium metal is obtained by multistage extraction. Initially, zircon reacts with coke in an electric furnace to produce zirconium hydrocarbons and then chlorinates to produce zirconium tetrachloride. The magnesium reduction of the zirconium tetrachloride process involves the reduction of tetrachloride by placing magnesium metal in an inert gas to obtain spongy zirconium.

High purity zirconium metal can be refined by iodide thermal dissociation. In this process, metal and iodine vapors react at 200℃ and send volatile iodine to the connector, separating zirconium in the form of volatile iodine from most impurities. At about 1300℃, iodide is separated on a heated filament attached to highly purified zirconium. The released iodine is transferred from the filament, and the product is called a zirconium crystal rod.

Zirconium sponge

More than 90% of zirconium sponge is used as a zirconium-based alloy for structural and cladding materials in nuclear reactors. Zirconium is used in the chemical industry, pesticide industry, printing, and dyeing industry to manufacture corrosion-resistant reaction towers, pumps, heat exchangers, valves, stirrers, nozzles, pipes, and container lining. It can also be used as a deoxidizing and denitrifying agent in the process of steelmaking and grain finisher of aluminum alloy. Zirconium wire can be used as grid support, cathode support and grid material, as well as air plasma cutting machine electrode head. Zirconium powder is mainly used as a deflagrant in the arms industry, a degassing agent in electronic devices, and it can also be used to make igniters, fireworks and flash powder.

Stanford Advanced Materials supplies high-quality zirconium products to meet our customers’ R&D and production needs. Please visit https://www.samaterials.com for more information.

10 Applications of Zirconium You Should Know

Zirconium, chemical symbol Zr, atomic number 40, melting point 1852°C, is one of the high melting point metals. Zirconium with special excellent properties, such as the resistance to high temperature, oxidation, corrosion, and abrasion, all of which made it a wide range of applications as the structured and functional ceramic material in many industrial sectors, especially in the high-tech industry.

Zirconium products and their applications

  1. Zirconium silicate

Zirconium silicate is an important kind of traditional zirconium product. Products can be prepared with zircon sand as raw material, after grinding, calcination, and powder, is a kind of high-quality and inexpensive ceramic glaze opacifying agent, mainly used in ceramics and porcelain, building ceramics color glaze production, has been widely used in high-grade refractory materials, precision casting, emulsified glass and other industries.

Zirconium Silicate Powder

  1. Zirconium carbonate

Zirconium carbonate is mainly used as cosmetic additives and waterproof agents, flame retardants, sunscreen, fiber and paper surface additives, and can be used for preparing zirconium cerium catalytic composite material, is an important raw material for textile, papermaking, paint, cosmetics industry, the amount of growth in recent years.

  1. Zirconium oxychloride

It can be used for other zirconium products such as two – zirconium oxide, zirconium carbonate, zirconium sulfate, zirconium and hafnium compound preparation and separation of zirconium and hafnium metal material, can also be used for textile, leather, rubber additives, metal surface treatment agent, coating driers, refractories, ceramics, catalyst, fire retardant, and other products.

  1. Fused zirconia

Fused zirconia is mainly used in the production of glazes and refractories. Due to the high content of impurities in the fused zirconia, the use is limited.

  1. Zirconium sulfate

It is the important raw material in the production of leather tanning agent, wool processing agent and paint surface oxidation agent, can be used as a catalyst carrier, amino acid, and protein, precipitant, and deodorant, intermediate raw materials are for zirconium chemicals and metal zirconium and hafnium.

  1. Zirconium oxide

The white solid, non-toxic, tasteless, has enough stability of alkali solution and many acidic solutions, suitable for precision ceramics, electronic ceramics, optical lenses, glass additives, dissolving zirconia brick, ceramic pigment, glaze, artificial stone, refractory materials, grinding and polishing industry and products.

It is also known as semi-stable, stable zirconia is a white powder with non-toxic, tasteless, and stable chemical properties, the specific surface area is controllable, manufacturing all kinds of special ceramics, advanced refractories, new energy materials, optical communication devices, based on raw materials.

  1. Zirconia structural ceramics

Using the composite zirconium oxide as the raw material, including two kinds of products such as zirconia grinding and zirconia structure, the structure of zirconia mainly includes the zirconia special ceramic valves, fiber optic connectors, ceramic knives, watches accessories, ceramic scissors, textile porcelain, etc.

Since Zirconium has very good chemical corrosion resistance, zirconium shapes, such as zirconium tubes and zirconium rods are used to make equipment for the chemical industry.

Zirconium Rod

  1. Nuclear grade zirconium

It is an important strategic metal used primarily for nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, and civilian power reactors, as well as the cladding of uranium fuel elements.

  1. Industrial grade zirconium

It is mainly used for the production of industrial-grade zirconium – chemical corrosion resistance equipment, military industry, electronic industry, pipeline valve materials, special high strength and high-temperature alloy materials, electric vacuum, and lighting industry getter.

  1. Firearm zirconium

It is also used in the combustion of the flame zirconium sponge, and also can be used in alloy additives and metallurgical deoxidizers, chemical industry, civil flash fireworks and so on.

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How Does the Fused Zirconia Work in Modern Industry?

Zirconia and zirconite are the main raw materials of zirconia in nature. Pure zirconia is a white solid that will appear grey or light yellow when it contains impurities, and various other colors can be displayed by adding a developer. Pure zirconium oxide is a kind of advanced refractory raw material with a melting temperature of about 2900 ℃. Zirconia usually contains a small amount of hafnium oxide, which is difficult to separate but has no obvious effect on the properties of zirconia.

Zirconia has three crystalline forms: monoclinic, tetragonal and cubic. The zirconia at room temperature only appears in monoclinic phase, and it will be transformed into the tetragonal phase when heated to 1100 ℃ or so, and it will turn into a cubic phase when heated up to a higher temperature. Due to large volume changes when the monoclinic phase changes to the square phase, and large volume changes in the opposite direction when cooling, it is easy to cause product cracking, which limits the use of pure zirconia at high temperatures. However, the tetragonal phase can be stabilized at room temperature after adding stabilizer, so the volume mutation will not occur after heating, which greatly expands the application range of zirconia.


Refractory materials and casting

There are two main refractory markets for the fused zirconia. The first is the cast steel refractories in the steel industry, particularly for the production of isostatic pressure molding products, which include intermediate flow slots and ladle outlets and immersion nozzles.

The second major market is the refractory produced by the electric melting and burning method in the special glass industry. Zirconia gives the molten glass good resistance to high temperature and corrosion. As there is no reaction area, there is no gravel in the glass. Aluminum-zirconium silicon refractories are graded by the content of zirconia, which is determined by the content of zirconia in the product.

Investment casting

For fused zirconia, investment casting is another major specialized market. For example, zirconia is commonly used as a model coating for the casting of special products such as aerospace engines, turbine engines, and golf clubs. Zirconite is used in investment casting because it can form actual contact with hot metal alloy to protect the die from thermal shock.

Abrasive substance

The polishing tools used in the ceramic industry, such as grinding wheel pieces and non-metal blades used in stone cutting, are made into coarse abrasive particles by mixing zirconia and alumina according to a certain formula, and then made into a grinding wheel or coated on the surface of grinding tool after thermal processing. This method can be used to polish steel and metal alloys.

Advanced ceramics and special products

For stable zirconia, the roasting control board for electronic components is a major market. Stable zirconia is also used in oxygen sensors and fuel cell partitions because it has the ability to allow oxygen ions to move freely in the crystalline structure at high temperatures, and the high ionic conductivity makes it one of the most promising materials for electrical ceramics. Chemical-grade zirconia is often used in electric melting products, and other special product markets include vacuum pumps and high-value components, special tool parts and brake lining. Fully stable cubic phase yttrium stabilized zirconia is used in the jewelry industry as a cheap alternative to diamonds.

Stanford Advanced Materials supplies high-quality zirconia products to meet our customers’ R&D and production needs. Please visit http://www.samaterials.com for more information.