The chemical processing industry (CPI) forms an enormous share of the global economy. Manufacturing a wide variety of commodity, intermediate, fine, and specialty chemicals the approximately USD $4 trillion segment (based on pre-pandemic estimates), also produces many chemical building blocks essential to numerous other industrial areas.
Corrosion-resistant refractory metals like tantalum (Ta) are essential to operations in various chemical processing facilities. We will explore what tantalum is used for in CPIs shortly, but first it is worth looking at some typical processing conditions in CPI.
Corrosion in CPI —An Overview
Active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), agrochemicals, detergents, pigments, petrochemicals, and myriad other consumer and industrial base chemicals are produced world-wide in gigantic quantities every single year. The intense economic requirements characteristic to the CPI are compounded by inherent processing difficulties.
Most of the CPI utilizes reagents such as hydrochloric, hydrofluoric, nitric, phosphoric, and sulfuric acids. The corrosivity of each increases with concentration, but additional factors such as temperature, vapour phases and pressure can accelerate the chemical attack of container linings and mixing components. In mixing applications, the velocity of impellers also plays a part. Careful materials selection for chemical processing equipment and vessels is vital for ensuring the long-term safety and economic viability of your workflow.
Often, metals that are susceptible to corrosion in the long-term will be chosen for a given service time with maintenance/replacement scheduled well in advance of failure. This is not a sure-fire solution, however.
Tantalum in Chemical Processing
Tantalum sets the benchmark for long-term performance in corrosive environments. It is inert in the presence of most acids (except for hydrofluoric) and its corrosion-resistance is comparable to glass in chemical reaction vessels and pipework. Tantalum is not suitable for use in caustic environments where sodium or potassium hydroxide, for example, are present.
Although tantalum may seem like an expensive choice when compared with maintenance intensive alternatives like graphite, or silicon carbide (SiC), the total cost of ownership over the many years of virtually maintenance-free operation render tantalum the solution of choice for a broad spectrum of CPI applications. Since tantalum CPI equipment can last multiple decades, the initial investment is easily offset by decreased downtime and higher production rates. In addition, using tantalum eliminates particle generation in systems where purity is essential (i.e. pharmaceuticals). In the end, the go to solution for high purity, high performance and reliable operation is either pure tantalum of the tried-and-trusted Ta2.5W alloy.
Tantalum is an excellent candidate for additive manufacturing (AM) using either powder (for complex shapes with thin walls) or wire-based processes (for rapid manufacturing rates). Depending on the complexity of the equipment being printed, various AM processes have demonstrated the cost-effective creation of tantalum parts and components that would otherwise be physically impossible or prohibitively expensive to manufacture using traditional subtractive techniques (e.g., machining, drilling, etc.). Components such as small high efficiency heat exchangers, micro-reactors, pump impellers, acid mixers, and many others can be manufactured using AM techniques in tantalum and tantalum alloys to suit complex applications in various CPI sub-segments.
Tantalum Alloys from H.C. Starck Solutions
At H.C. Starck Solutions, in addition to the standard Ta2.5W alloy, we offer a modified Ta2.5W that was engineered for enhanced corrosion and hydrogen embrittlement resistance. Our Ultra 76+ products are available in a wide range of formats, including unfinished bars and billets, semi-finished coils, rods, and wires, and tubing. This novel tantalum alloy offers the potential for increased productivity due to its superior corrosion and hydrogen embrittlement resistance at higher operating temperatures and acid concentrations.
Contact a member of the team today if you would like to learn more about our range of tantalum products.
Tantalum is one of the rarest elements on earth in both pure and alloy forms. At the same time, it is needed in a wide variety of applications. First discovered in 1802, it was originally thought to be a niobium allotrope which is chemically similar to tantalum. However tantalum was determined to be an element of its own, one of the most corrosion-resistant metals available, with a rarity similar to that of uranium.
Chemical Properties of Tantalum
|Atomic Mass||180.94788 u|
|Melting Point||3,017 °C|
|Co-efficient of Thermal Expansion||10-6/K|
With its grey finish, tantalum is similar in color to platinum. It has a density of 16.6 g/cm3; double that of steel. It is highly ductile at room temperature and has the fourth highest melting point of all known metals at 3017°C (5463°F).
Tantalum is used in a wide range of alloys to increase strength, ductility, and melting point. Tantalum can be used in a range of forms suited to different industrial applications such as powder which can be used in electrical capacitors and sheet to line columns and vessels in chemical applications, and as vacuum furnace parts. When it is drawn into a thin wire, tantalum is used as a filament for metals which evaporate such as aluminum. In addition to these forms, tantalum can also be used as rods/wires, tubes, strips, foils, and oxides.
Tantalum has excellent corrosion resistance to most acids (a notable exception is hydrofluoric) in a wide range of concentrations and temperatures. Its corrosion resistance is similar to glass in many of these acids. Consequently, it is used in chemical processing equipment where hot, highly corrosive environments are encountered. Heat exchangers, bayonet heaters, tank liners, valve liners, feed lances, rupture disks, and various other components are fabricated from tantalum.
The semiconductor market is built on the foundation of silicon chip manufacturing technology. Integrated circuits (ICs) are produced with nanoscale feature sizes and the optimization of electron conduction between nanometer-scale features is critical. Tantalum can be used in logic chips and DRAMS to facilitate the use of copper as interconnects as, unlike copper, tantalum atoms do not diffuse into silicon at the temperatures these chips operate at.
High-purity tantalum and tantalum nitrides are grown on top of the copper chips to stop electromigration of the copper atoms, meaning the semiconductor devices remain reliable for longer. At H.C. Starck Solutions, we supply sputter target blanks which are often used to generate barrier layers in modern ICs.
Tantalum is extremely biocompatible and does not produce toxic products or trigger adverse immunological responses when exposed to body or bodily fluids. This means that tantalum works well for medical applications that require pairing with living tissue such as medical implants and prosthetics.
Military and Aerospace
Nickel based superalloys are used extensively in gas turbine engines for commercial and military aircraft where they are exposed to extremely high temperatures and stresses. Tantalum additions to these superalloys help improve high temperature strength. Parts and components made from these tantalum containing superalloys can operate at higher internal combustion temperatures resulting in enhanced thrust efficiencies and lower fuel consumption.
Refractory furnace trays and boats are routinely used to hold semi-finished goods during extremely high temperature processes like sintering. Tantalum is an exceptional material for furnace applications, retaining good dimensional stability at process temperatures with excellent resistance to creep deformation ensuring long service.
Superconducting wires intended for use in nuclear applications often incorporate tantalum diffusion barriers designed to resist internal diffusion and impart enhanced mechanical properties to the superconducting element. This is useful for large-scale scientific initiatives such as nuclear fusion research.
Tantalum has exceptional storage capacities with the ability to store more charge per gram than any other comparable metals. For this reason, tantalum is well-suited to the production of electrical capacitors and resistors whilst being able to hold large amounts of charge in a small component. This has meant manufacturers have been able to make electrical parts and devices much smaller.
We are so excited to announce that we will be exhibiting in person at AMUG (Additive Manufacturing Users Group) in Orlando, Florida, May 2-6, 2021! AMUG is a global community focused on accelerating the education and advancement of additive manufacturing and 3D printing. The AMUG conference brings together engineers, designers, managers, and educators from around the world to share expertise, best practices, challenges, and application developments in additive manufacturing.
H.C. Starck Solutions’ expertise in AM methods, as well as refractory metal part manufacturing, makes us the ideal partner for our customers’ current applications, as well as for the development of solutions to their future challenges. Our competency in material selection, part design, process validation, and full-scale manufacturing provides a leading edge in the fast-paced AM industry. With refractory metal feedstocks including both powder and wire, we’re able to support multiple AM methods.
Based on 100 years of experience in the manufacturing and development of refractory metals, H.C. Starck Solutions has powder and wire feedstock with tailored properties perfectly suited for AM. Our core competencies of W, Mo, Ta, and Nb, in pure and alloyed forms, ensure materials with the highest quality and performance for our customers. As an integrated player, we use our feedstock materials and turn them into innovative finished products using the best-suited additive manufacturing methods.
Since the introduction of AM, a large variety of process technologies have been developed of which no single method fits all applications. H.C. Starck Solutions works closely with its customers and partners to select the correct feedstock and method that will provide the most value to any given application. We have successfully demonstrated refractory metal AM with multiple methods.
Faith Oehlerking, our Additive Manufacturing R&D Engineer, will be giving a technical presentation at the show on Wednesday, May 5, 3-4PM EST in the AM Metal Technologies Track. Her presentation will be called “Optimizing Refractory Metals for Additive Manufacturing.”
Our booth (#64) will be open to visitors at the AMUGExpo on Sunday, May 2, and Monday, May 3. If you are interested in speaking with any of our team about H.C. Starck Solutions’ refractory metals for additive manufacturing, please visit our booth where we will also be displaying some of our AM products.
H.C. Starck Solutions is a truly international company with a global footprint. That comes with ethical responsibilities, and our facilities often look to engage with their local communities in meaningful ways. It is part of our core environmental, social, and governance (ESG) values whereby we hope to cultivate a brighter future for the world we share. Nowhere is this more important than fostering opportunities for children in need.
Our Taiwan office has had a long-standing relationship with Reindeer, part of the Taoyuan Landi foundation. The Reindeer initiative provides a safe and caring environment for children who need support beyond their primary family unit. Whether through abandonment, abuse, or violence, all of these children need support to ensure a brighter future for themselves. Reindeer facilitates this by carrying out social work and child placement services designed to enrich the lives of children through social work, education, mental health support, dietary assistance, and more.
A key area of their activities is the heart warming Independence Training Café, where children are encouraged to take part in the Reindeer Coffee Bean Workshop. Reindeer invites members of the public to attend and help children practice their skills in a real-world setting. This gives them the chance to engage with customers and hear sincere encouragement face-to-face. All proceeds go straight back into the institution.
The Taiwan team has purchased drip bag coffee products through the Reindeer Coffee Bean Workshop for a while now, and they are proud to support the initiative which may help teach children the social and professional skills they need to one day stand on their own two feet. Recently, the team visited their local Reindeer charity centre as part of an in-depth team-building exercise where they learned how they could be doing more. In the charity’s own words:
‘The only way that Reindeer can give back to society is to put out all the stops to cultivate children diligently…There are many difficulties that children need to go through by themselves. As an old saying goes, “Teaching a man how to fish is better than giving him a fish”.’
The H.C. Starck Taiwan team have since joined the Reindeer volunteer program and hope to contribute more in the coming years. If you would like to hear more about our core ESG values, why not contact a member of the H.C. Starck Solutions team today?
H.C. Starck Solutions will be exhibiting at this year’s FPD China conference taking place in Shanghai, China, March 17-19, 2021 at the Shanghai New International Expo Centre. FPD China is an international industry exposition focusing on the display and touch screen manufacturing chain, gathering worldwide equipment, materials, and the latest technology all under one roof. FPD China aims to provide a platform for developers, manufacturers, and researchers to learn about the latest and greatest innovations in consumer electronics.
With the ongoing pandemic, FPD China will be following strict safety measures. H.C. Starck Solutions will be displaying some of our products for the semiconductor industry at our booth and are we excited to share our knowledge of refractory metal solutions for electronics at the show in person.
We are one of the world’s largest producers of molybdenum, tungsten, tantalum, and niobium metals in form of powders, semi-finished, and fabricated products with a robust supply chain for delivering sputtering targets for thin film coating applications. Our global manufacturing facilities produce a broad range of sputtering target materials in all configurations, including monolithic and planar plates and rotary tubes. Our knowledge and experience in the flat panel display market and the latest cutting-edge technologies enable us to collaborate with customers to create value-added solutions for complex issues facing the industry. Optimized compositions are quickly scaled up for laboratory or sub-scale targets for evaluation at a customer’s laboratory. Consequently, full scale production targets are realized with similarly optimized processes based on our company’s many years of production experience.
In addition to the FPD space, our refractory metals are also the ideal products for semiconductors. High purity tantalum and tungsten are widely used in modern integrated circuit designs, enabling trends toward smaller chip sizes and increasing performance. We provide industry leading purity up to 4N5 and are developing 5N and 6N tantalum for applications in advanced integrated circuit designs. With over 20 years of experience in this market, H.C. Starck Solutions has supported the needs of its customers by controlling chemistry, grain size, and texture and we continue to enable advancements in nanoscale engineering of electronics.
With 6 production sites and various sales offices worldwide including Asia, Europe, and the Americas, H.C. Starck Solutions offers exceptional customer care with local Sales and Technical support.
We will be showcasing our FPD and semiconductor refractory metal products at Booth #1222 in Hall N1. We are excited to discuss how our materials provide solutions for the electronics industry!
H.C. Starck Solutions has launched a new virtual environment designed as a hub of interactive knowledge where professionals in technical industries can learn about the latest refractory metals solutions and the company’s pioneering developments in related fields.
At H.C. Starck Solutions, we proudly consider ourselves drivers of innovation. Customers around the world, occupying a cross-section of core industries, rely on our commitment to technical ingenuity to resolve critical business challenges through bespoke solutions. Although we were founded on materials expertise—particularly in the field of refractory metals manufacturing—our continued success derives from that innovative mentality. It is what allows us to collaborate with partners and to generate customized solutions with truly added value.
COVID-19 is a challenge that unites all business sectors. It has affected how we market products and share ideas, and is likely ushering in something of a paradigm shift in terms of how industries continue to operate in a post-pandemic era. We are still unaware of if/how conferences and tradeshows will bounce back from a year of mandatory social distancing and business closures, but one thing is for sure; COVID-19 has not affected our collective hunger for continued research and development (R&D) into refractory metal solutions.
Catering to that desire for information and innovation, our team has built a completely unique learning environment modelled on the tradeshow experience. It gives us the chance to share information in a new and exciting format, with limitless potential for growth in the future.
The virtual environment currently features a brief introduction to H.C. Starck Solutions with four distinct sections. Our company section introduces our 100 year story with options to further explore our global footprint and product portfolio. Navigate further through the 3D environment to the markets area which features an interactive plane with highlights about our aerospace services and components. This market area will grow from month to month to encompass all of our exciting application areas, from electronics fabrication through to medical device manufacturing and industrial processing. You will also find our innovation area and HR section, with interesting details displayed in a completely unique format.
We envisage a great scope of potential for our new refractory metals learning environment, from hosting expert talks to engaging with the community in a way that emulates the inimitable tradeshow experience.
Interested in learning more about what our new information hub will feature in the future? Contact a member of the H.C. Starck Solutions team to find out.
H.C. Starck Solutions will be virtually exhibiting at MIM, the foremost conference on injection molding of metals, ceramics, and carbides. MIM is the primary conference for experts in PIM spaces to discuss the very latest technology transfer and developments. Run annually by the prestigious Metal Powder Industries Federation (MPIF), MIM exhibitors collectively champion excellence and innovation in the powder injection molding (PIM) industry. This year the conference will be held virtually February 22-25, 2021.
MIM 2021: PIM Development & Innovation
MIM 2021 will provide a forum for manufacturers and developers working with PIM ceramics and metals to share their own insights from a growing industry. Professionals from every point in the manufacturing chain, from designers and engineers to end-users will find something of value from the conference and the optional powder injection molding tutorial.
At H.C. Starck Solutions, we have accrued significant expertise in tantalum, molybdenum, tungsten, and niobium-based powders as well as a broad spectrum of highly engineered furnace hardware (from simple trays and boats to complex hot zones, racks and other assemblies). With a diverse suite of engineering tools available to us, we employ advance modelling to develop design and manufacture custom solutions for specific products used in high temperature sintering or heat treating furnaces.
We will also be hosting a presentation at MIM: “Engineering of Refractory Metal Powders and Furnace Hardware for Optimum Metal Injection Molding Processes.”
The presentation will discuss the importance and role of manufacturing optimum Mo and W powders for MIM feedstock as well as design and modelling of furnace hardware for optimum performance and extended lifetime.
We would love to hear your perspective on the PIM industry and to share our expertise!
Niobium (Nb) is a grey transition metal that is routinely used as an essential alloying element in high-volume mid-value steelmaking, alongside lower throughput superalloy production for extremely valuable high-technology applications. Among the many benefits of niobium is the fact that it only takes small amounts to dramatically alter the performance properties of an alloyed system. As little as 0.02 wt% can significantly enhance corrosion resistance and strength in steels. This makes niobium an increasingly vital component in a wide range of application areas.
Chemical Properties of Niobium
|Coefficient of Thermal Expansion||7.1 x 10-6 / K at 25°C|
Niobium is useful as an alloying element for a number of reasons. Firstly, it belongs to the refractory metals group and is subsequently associated with extremely high thermodynamic stability. It shares several properties with other refractories like molybdenum; namely comparable atomic mass and similar melting points. Secondly, it readily forms strong carbides and nitrides within microalloyed steels which improves key properties like strength, toughness, and formability.
As a consequence of these extremely desirable qualities, the majority of globally-produced niobium is used for steels and superalloys. However, there are some applications where pure niobium excels.
Common Niobium Applications
Among the most common applications of niobium are high-strength low-alloy (HSLA) steels and superalloys. However, at H.C. Starck Solutions, we supply a range of specialist applications rather than the standard industries. These include:
Niobium oxide coatings can significantly improve the electrochemical corrosion and wear resistance of glass. This is ideal for enhanced longevity of various components such as camera lenses and touch screens. Performance-enhancing niobium oxide films are deposited via sputtering using high-purity, low-defect niobium sputter targets.
Cathodic Protection Systems
Active steel surfaces (pipelines, underwater storage, etc.) often require protection from complex forms of electrochemical corrosion, such as pitting—where chlorides in seawater attack flaws in the material. Niobium coatings can be used to protect the base metal by acting as a sacrificial coating, corroding in lieu of the underlying steel.
Sodium Vapor Lamps
Gas-discharge lamps based on sodium vapour emit nearly monochrome yellow light by passing a current between two electrodes and ionizing neon and argon within the discharge tube, then finally vaporising metallic sodium. It is the sodium that shines this characteristic yellow. Low- and high-pressure sodium-vapour (LPS/HPS) have been used as the predominating technology for street lights for decades. The tough sealing demands of HPS lamps often use niobium seals to combat the corrosive effects of sodium at high-pressure and temperature.
Niobium and niobium based alloys form the basis for a large number of superconductor wire applications. These materials are processed from large diameter rod (e.g., approximately 25mm) to extremely fine wire filaments finer than 10 mm. These wires are used in fusion energy, high energy physics, MRI, and other applications where high magnetic field strengths are required.
Interested in niobium?
Contact a member of the H.C. Starck Solutions team today if you would like to learn about the range of niobium alloys that we supply across a growing global marketplace.
With one hundred years of manufacturing experience, H.C. Starck Solutions is a world leader in engineering high-performance metal powders and fabricated products. Their sustainably-sourced refractory metals – molybdenum, tantalum, niobium, and tungsten, all play a crucial role in our interactions with a modern and evolving society. H.C. Starck Solutions works with its customers to develop customized solutions along the value chain, from powders and materials to finished metal products. Using state-of-the-art research facilities, they offer cutting edge and innovative solutions for a diverse range of current and future technological problems for businesses within the electronics, medical, industrial processing, and aerospace industries.
H.C. Starck Solutions was excited to participate in a live panel presentation at the Glasstec Virtual 2020 Conference in October. In the panel, our Market Director, Cristian Cretu, offers an overview of molybdenum (Mo) products that are used in the manufacturing of various glass types. With applications ranging from traditional glassware to advanced fiber glass and pharmaceutical vials, Mo proves to be the material of choice for glass melting electrodes (GMEs). He goes into detail on the benefits of different types of GMEs as well as the criteria for choosing the right products for the job.