More information about tantalum


Tantalum was discovered in Sweden in 1802 by Anders Ekeberg. One year earlier, Charles Hatchett had discovered the element columbium. In 1809, the English chemist William Hyde Wollaston compared the oxides derived from both columbium—columbite, with a density 5.918 g/cm3, and tantalum—tantalite, with a density 7.935 g/cm3, and concluded that the two oxides, despite their difference in measured density, were identical. He decided to keep the name tantalum. After Friedrich Wöhler confirmed these results, it was thought that columbium and tantalum were the same element. This conclusion was disputed in 1846 by the German chemist Heinrich Rose, who argued that there were two additional elements in the tantalite sample, and he named them after the children of Tantalus: niobium (from Niobe, the goddess of tears), and pelopium (from Pelops). The supposed element "pelopium" was later identified as a mixture of tantalum and niobium, and it was found that the niobium was identical to the columbium already discovered in 1801 by Hatchett.

The differences between tantalum and niobium were demonstrated unequivocally in 1864 by Christian Wilhelm Blomstrand, and Henri Etienne Sainte-Claire Deville, as well as by Louis J. Troost, who determined the empirical formulas of some of their compounds in 1865. Further confirmation came from the Swiss chemist Jean Charles Galissard de Marignac, in 1866, who proved that there were only two elements. These discoveries did not stop scientists from publishing articles about the so-called ilmenium until 1871. De Marignac was the first to produce the metallic form of tantalum in 1864, when he reduced tantalum chloride by heating it in an atmosphere of hydrogen. Early investigators had been only able to produce impure tantalum, and the first relatively pure ductile metal was produced by Werner von Bolton in 1903. Wires made with metallic tantalum were used for light bulb filaments untiltungsten replaced it in widespread use.

 Physical Properties

Tantalum is dark (blue-gray), dense, ductile, very hard, easily fabricated, and highly conductive of heat and electricity. The metal is renowned for its resistance to corrosion by acids; in fact, at temperatures below 150 °C tantalum is almost completely immune to attack by the normally aggressive aqua regia. It can be dissolved with hydrofluoric acid or acidic solutions containing the fluoride ion and sulfur trioxide, as well as with a solution of potassium hydroxide. Tantalum's high melting point of 3017 °C (boiling point 5458 °C) is exceeded only by tungsten, rhenium and osmium for metals, and carbon.


The primary mining of tantalum is in Australia, where the largest producer, Global Advanced Metals, formerly known as Talison Minerals, operates two mines in Western Australia, Greenbushes in the Southwest and Wodgina in the Pilbara region. The Wodgina mine was reopened in January 2011 after mining at the site was suspended in late-2008 due to the global financial crisis. Less than a year after it reopened, Global Advanced Metals announced that due to again "... softening tantalum demand ...", and other factors, tantalum mining operations were to cease at the end of February 2012. Wodgina produces a primary tantalum concentrate which is further upgraded at the Greenbushes operation before being sold to customers. Whereas the large-scale producers of niobium are in Brazil and Canada, the ore there also yields a small percentage of tantalum. Some other countries such as China, Ethiopia, and Mozambique mine ores with a higher percentage of tantalum, and they produce a significant percentage of the world's output of it. Tantalum is also produced in Thailand and Malaysia as a by-product of the tin mining there. During gravitational separation of the ores from placer deposits, not only is Cassiterite (SnO2) found, but a small percentage of tantalite also included. The slag from the tin smelters then contains economically useful amounts of tantalum, which is leached from the slag. Future sources of supply of tantalum, in order of estimated size, are being explored in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Greenland, China, Mozambique, Canada, Australia, the United States, Finland, and Brazil.  

Coltan, the industrial name for a columbite–tantalite mineral from which columbium (i.e. niobium) and tantalum are extracted, can also be found in Central Africa, which is why tantalum is being linked to warfare in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). However, although important for the local economy in Congo, the contribution of coltan mining in Congo to the world supply of tantalum is usually small. The United States Geological Survey reports in its yearbook that this region produced a little less than 1% of the world's tantalum output in 2002–2006, peaking at 10% in 2000 and 2008.

It is estimated that there are less than 50 years left of tantalum resources, based on extraction at current rates, demonstrating the need for increased recycling.


The major use for tantalum, as the metal powder, is in the production of electronic components, mainly capacitors and some high -powerresistors. Tantalum electrolytic capacitors exploit the tendency of tantalum to form a protective oxide surface layer, using tantalum powder, pressed into a pellet shape, as one "plate" of the capacitor, the oxide as the dielectric, and an electrolytic solution or conductive solid as the other "plate". Because the dielectric layer can be very thin (thinner than the similar layer in, for instance, an aluminium electrolytic capacitor), a high capacitance can be achieved in a small volume. Because of the size and weight advantages, tantalum capacitors are attractive for portable telephones, personal computers, and automotive electronics.


Tantalum is also used to produce a variety of alloys that have high melting points, are strong and have good ductility. Alloyed with other metals, it is also used in making carbide tools for metalworking equipment and in the production of superalloys for jet engine components, chemical process equipment, nuclear reactors, and missile parts. Because of its ductility, tantalum can be drawn into fine wires or filaments, which are used for evaporating metals such as aluminium. Since it resists attack by body fluids and is nonirritating, tantalum is widely used in making surgical instruments and implants. For example, porous tantalum coatings are used in the construction of orthopedic implants due to tantalum's ability to form a direct bond to hard tissue.

Tantalum is inert against most acids except hydrofluoric acid and hot sulfuric acid, also hot alkaline solutions cause tantalum to corrode. This property makes it an ideal metal for chemical reaction vessels and pipes for corrosive liquids. Heat exchanging coils for the steam heating of hydrochloric acid are made from tantalum. Tantalum was extensively used in the production of ultra high frequency electron tubes for radio transmitters. The tantalum is capable of capturing oxygen and nitrogen by forming nitrides and oxides and therefore helps to sustain the high vacuum needed for the tubes.

 Other uses

The high melting point and oxidation resistance lead to the use of the metal in the production of vacuum furnace parts. Tantalum is extremely inert and is therefore formed into a variety of corrosion resistants parts, such as thermowells, valve bodies, and tantalum fasteners. Due to its high density, shaped charge and explosively formed penetrator liners have been constructed from tantalum. Tantalum greatly increases the armor penetration capabilities of a shaped charge due to its high density and high melting point. It is also occasionally used in precious watches e.g. from Audemars Piguet, Hublot, Montblanc, Omega, and Panerai. Tantalum is also highly bioinert and is used as an orthopedic implant material. The elasticity of tantalum makes it a great material for hip replacements to avoid stress shielding. Because tantalum is a non-ferrous metal (non-magnetic), these implants are considered to be acceptable for patients undergoing MRI procedures. The oxide is used to make special high refractive index glass for camera lenses.