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The Benefits and Uses of Refractory Metals

The Benefits and Uses of Refractory Metals

Date posted: August 25, 2014 // Refractory Metals

Refractory metals are poles apart from standard metal. They are a unique class of metal elements or alloys that provide a number of unique characteristics and benefits unlike standard metal, thus making them extremely useful in a broad number of applications.

Firstly, refractory metals are extraordinarily resistant to extremely high heat, greater than 2 000°C, and offer outstanding resistant to wear. They not only have exceptional high melting points, but their extreme hardness gives them incredible strength, and can also withstand the abrasive and corrosive forces of solids, liquids and gases. They are thermal shock resistant and offer excellent heat and electrical conduction properties. Additionally, there are also some refractory metals that have the capabilities to act as radiation shields and chemical catalysts. There are five known refractory metals, each with their own unique varying properties and applications. Below we take a brief look at each one, along with their most common uses.

  • Molybdenum – out of all of the refractory metals, Molybdenum is the most used, due to its low cost. When manufactured into an alloy, it is extremely resistant to high temperatures and creep, making it tremendously corrosion resistant. This metal is typically used to toughen steel alloys in piping and tubing. It also has anti-friction qualities, which makes it an unrivalled component of automobile oils and greases. Uses range from glass manufacture, electric furnace heating elements, spray metallising, rocket skirts, cones, heat shields and Zinc refining pumps, to switch electrodes and tools for metalworking.
  • Tungsten – Tungsten is the most abundant among all of the refractory metals. It is one of the world’s hardest, wear resistant metals. It has a hardness close to that of diamonds and four times harder than that of titanium.  It also has the highest melting point of all non-alloyed metals, is an excellent conductor, and is thermally and chemically stable. It offers nothing less than sheer durability and toughness – no other metal can bend or scratch tungsten. The uses for this metal are multiple; it is widely used in incandescent, fluorescent and automotive lamp wire filaments, x-ray tubes, electrodes for inert gas arc welding, heating elements, lubricants and radiation shields.
  • Tantalum – Tantalum is the most resistant against corrosion. It is often used in high acidic environments, such as the medical industry. Tantalum is also widely used in computer and phone circuits, electrolytic capacitors, heat exchangers, bayonet heaters, thermometer wells and vacuum tube filaments, to name a few.
  • Niobium – Niobium is nearly always found together with tantalum, however, it is a highly unique metal that can be worked through annealing, to obtain high elasticity and strength. There are many uses for Niobium, it is the least dense of the refractory metals and is largely found in nuclear reactors, electrolytic capacitors, aircraft gas turbines and vacuum tubes.
  • Chromium – Chromium has a high melting point, which makes it an ideal metal for high temperature refractory applications. The major uses for chromium are used in blast furnaces, cement kilns and metal castings.

As the South African Agents for Plansee, we at Labotec Industrial Technologies are the exclusive suppliers of components manufactured from molybdenum, tungsten, tantalum, niobium and chromium. Wherever traditional materials are stretched beyond their limits, you can always rely on Labotec Industrial Technologies to be at the forefront of supplying the latest technology. Browse our website for more information about our refractory metal products and applications, or contact us to discuss your company’s special requirements.