The zirconium is one of the transition metals. Even though, it is commonly known by its properties as industrial material after some complex processes. Thus, there is no pure zirconium in the nature. Thanks to its characteristics and, chiefly, to its versatility, it is a material widely extended in all kind of industries. The most important minerals in which zirconium is found are zircon (ZrSiO4) and baddeleyite (ZrO2).

Origin

This material doesn’t exists as pure state, but there is zirconium in more than 140 different minerals. These minerals are in small deposits in few countries around the world. The principal exploitation zones in the earth are in Australia, South Africa, China and Indonesia.

Our principal supply zones come from Australia and Indonesia, where we produce all of our zirconium references.

Processing

The zirconium treatment is specially sensible and determinant for the final result. This can vary depending on the form and quality you want to obtain, and it requires few chemical processes.

The first step after the extraction commonly consists in purifying the sand extracted, for what it is used spiral concentrators and/or magnetic elements to catch light metals. Then, the zirconium and adhered materials will be melted by chemical melting.

These chemical treatments are the base of the initial process and their precision will determine the form and quality obtained from the zirconium.

If you want the zirconium in ingot form, the process will continue forming and dissociating zirconium iodide. Instead, if the zirconium will be used in powder metallurgy, salt electrolysis will be done.  Finally, mechanical processes will be done to obtain that final zirconium form, like the moltulation we do in CFM to get micronized or flour zirconium.

Uses and industries

More than 50% of all the zirconium around the world is used in the ceramic industry because of its opacity (whiteness and brightness) to fabricate vanish of products like tiles, sanitary ware (bathrooms, toilets and water closets) and crockery. 

The zirconium is able to be undergo high temperatures and corrosive environments thanks to it is a tough and resistant material. Moreover, that makes zirconium an ideal material to be a melting material and work in refractory sector, specially to fabricate refractory bricks and to produce steel and glass in furnaces.

The zirconium functionalities are very diverse and they will depend on all production process and the mineral quality. Here in CFM we are experts in zirconium supply for the refractory, ceramic and dental industries, in all of their variants and qualities.

1. Refractories/melting

Zirconium sand:

  • The zirconium sand have outstanding refractories properties, low thermal expansion and high thermal conductivity
  • It is used to make pins and molds that works under high temperatures, like steel pieces and pieces to be melted
  • The zirconium salt’s properties allow to avoid metal-mold reactions and to increase cooling speed

2. Zirconium flour

It is use to make refractories paints that will be apply on the working side of the sand molds, which provide a protective film that decrease the sintering of the sand in contact with liquid metal, improve the finishing surface and ease the melted piece demolding. This flour is also used to fabricate special paints, where high refractory and density are required.

3. In ceramic

Zirconium silicate or zirconium micronized:

It is used as ceramic opacifier because it provides high whiteness in ceramic varnishes, pignments, porcelain pastas, sanitaryware and table ceramic. It essential to use this silicate to achieve an opaque, white and bright enamel with low expand coefficient. The opacifier process starts with 4~5%, although 8-15% is the ideal interval. It is achieve a completely opacification in some compositions with just 3% additions. Industrially, we found two available quantities that differ in the fineness of the grain:

The zirconium silicate flour: is used to fabricate fried white and opaques varnishes, usually to produce engobes, at 45 μm because it is going to participate in the fried fusion.

Micronized zirconium or zirconium silicate: impalpable powder that provides better results as opacifier because of its excellent dispersion in the mixtures. Generally, it is the quality used as additive in grinding. If we introduce it in the mixtures to melt, the results are going to be better than the obtained with the zirconium flour. It is used at 5 μm for a perfect integration with the vanish.

Other uses:

  • In dental industry it is used to fabricate artificial teeth and dental crowns
  • Another similar purpose is in medicine, where it is used to make prothesis and artificial joints
  • Processed as “zirconia”, the zirconium is used as diamond imitation in jewelry
  • In nuclear industry, it is used to catch neutrons in reactive nuclei
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