The name zircon is thought to originate from the Persian word “Zargun” that describes the color of the gemstone now known as zircon. This mineral or it variations have been mentioned as far back as biblical writings. The mineral was not known to contain a new element until Klaproth in 1789 analyzed a stone from Ceylon and found a new earth that he called zirconia. Berzelius first isolated the impure zirconium metal in 1824 by heating a mixture of potassium and potassium zirconium fluoride in a decomposition process they had developed.
Zirconium is found in abundance in S-type stars and has been identified in the sun and in meteorites. Analysis of lunar rock samples collected during the Apollo missions to the moon show a surprisingly high concentration of zirconium oxide compared to terrestrial stones.
Naturally occurring zirconium contains five isotopes and fifteen others are known to exist. The principle ore is pure ZrO2 in crystalline form that also contains around 1% hafnium. Zirconium is produced commercially by reduction of chloride with magnesium and other methods. When in powder form the metal may ignite spontaneously especially when exposed to high temperatures. The solid metal is much more difficult to ignite. The toxicity of zirconium compounds is low and you will usually find the presence of hafnium in the ores that are very difficult to remove. Commercial grades of zirconium usually have from 1-3% hafnium present in their chemistry.
Zirconium has many different uses due to its exceptional resistance to corrosion by acids and alkalis, sea water, other agents and its low absorption cross section for neutrons. Reactor grade zirconium that is essentially free of hafnium is used for cladding of fuel elements and accounts for 90% of all zirconium production. A single commercial reactor may have a half million feet of zirconium alloy tubing in it. Other uses include:
- getters in vacuum tubes, photoflash bulbs, lamp filaments, explosive primers
- a super conducting magnet among others
H. Cross Company can provide zirconium in wire, ribbon, strip, sheet and foil sizes to suit your particular needs. Please refer to our Typical Dimension and Tolerances page for general size ranges of products. If you do not see your required size list Contact Us by email or phone for further information or assistance.