Tantalum was discovered in 1802 by Swedish chemist Anders Ekeberg; however, in 1809, tantalum and columbium (now niobium) oxides were compared and thought to be identical. It wasn’t until 1846 that niobium and tantalum were understood to be two separate elements.
Tantalum is a grey, heavy and hard metal with high corrosion resistance and the highest known ability of all metals to store electricity. It is very rare, averaging 2 ppm in the earth’s crust, and is remarkable for its unsurpassed performance in the diverse end uses that it serves. Only three metals have higher melting points: tantalum’s tensile strength is approximately twice that of high strength alloy steels. Tantalum metal is virtually untouched by most acids and alkalis.
Tantalum is mostly found in specialized or highly fractionated granitic rocks and their related pegmatites. It also occurs in placer deposits along with tin minerals and historically processed tin slags have been an important source of the metal.
Avalon has two potential sources of tantalum in its portfolio. The Nechalacho property near Thor Lake, Northwest Territories contains tantalum in the heavy rare earth element-bearing mineral fergusonite. Avalon’s Separation Rapids project near Kenora, Ontario also holds tantalum along with lithium, cesium and rubidium.
Applications of Tantalum:
- Electronics: The majority of tantalum produced is used in the construction of electronic capacitors which are fundamental to all electronic products. Tantalum’s ability to store electricity in small capacitors has allowed the miniaturization of aviation electronics, miniaturization of computers to desktop and laptops, and the miniaturization of all hand held electronic devices such as cell phones and radios.
- Specialized Uses: Tantalum carbides are significantly harder than tungsten carbides and are the preferred carbide in high-speed machine tool bits, cutting tools and teeth for construction, mining equipment and drill bits. Its high strength, high temperature alloys find service in jet engines and other high temperature applications, and it is used directly to coat equipment that functions in highly corrosive and high temperature environments such as chemical processing plants.
- Glass: Tantalum oxide added to glass greatly increases its transparency and refractive index making possible lighter eyeglass and camera lenses.
- Medical: Tantalum’s inertness or immunity to attack by chemicals and its non-allergenic character lend to its use in surgical appliances and prosthetic implants.