Tantalum is a rare metal widely used in the in the consumer electronics industry for the production of electronics capacitors used in mobile phones, computers, digital cameras, LCD monitors and wireless devices. Tantalum is also used to make super alloys for jet engines, turbines, space vehicles, power plants and cutting tools. Its high strength, high ductility, high reliability, high corrosion resistance and high thermal conductivity support the diversity of applications.
Pure tantalum is characterised by its high melting point (2,997°C), exceptional resistance to chemical attack, its ability to store and release electrical charge and a resistance to corrosion. These unique chemical properties have led to its widespread use in the electronics industry, mainly as powder and wire for capacitors. This allows the creation of exceptionally small components used in high-end applications in telecommunications, and data storage. Tantalum is also used for electronic sound filters and as a barrier against copper diffusion in semi-conductors. As tantalum carbide, one of the hardest substances known to man, it is used for cutting tools.
Tantalum is highly biocompatible and is used in medical devices such as auto-defibrillators and cochlear implants. Its low mechanical strength means it is generally used as a coating on stronger substrates, such as stainless steel. Applications range from stents supporting blood vessels to plates, bone replacements, suture clips and wire.
Tantalum also goes into the manufacture of superalloys, imparting strength and high-temperature resistance against cracking, for use in aerospace and energy generation. Its corrosion resistance makes tantalum useful in the chemical industry, generally as a lining to pipes, tanks and vessels. Tantalum oxide increases the refractive index in lens glasses.
There are many varied uses for this metal and the demand for tantalum raw material has been on the rise but the inventories in the supply chain currently are low. The US Geological Survey (USGS) and the Tantalum-Niobium International Study Centre (TIC) predict the annual demand growth for tantalum to be 7% over the next 20 years. To meet the future demand, the market will require additional production from new projects.