Hafnium the Little Known Element With Huge Potential
The metal that is starting to get a great deal of attention from the military industrial complex was already well known in the nuclear industry and in the semiconductor industry. This metal is hafnium. Hafnium was discovered in 1923 by a Danish chemist named Dirk Coster and Georg Karl von Hevesey in Copenhagen. Its symbol on the periodic table is Hf and its atomic number is 72. Hafnium is considered a transition metal and is found as an impurity in Zircon ore deposits. The percentage in Zircon ore deposits is about 15%. The producers of Hafnium are Australia 42%, South Africa 32%, China 11% and a few other nations with smaller amounts.
Hafnium in semiconductors is an emerging use. A few years ago Hafnium replaced some uses of silicon in the semiconductor industry. Hafnium has increased the speed of the microprocessors, decreased the size, and made them more efficient. These chips have lowered energy leakage by 20%. ¨Silicon valley¨ has now become ¨Hafnium Valley¨.
In aviation High Purity Hafnium Bar is used in super alloys. Due to it being an excellent refractory metal hafnium has applications where heat resistance is needed. It is used in the, ¨exhaust end¨, of jet engines. The melting point is 2233° C or 4,051° F.
The one use that may see a large increase of use is in the nuclear industry. The control rods which capture the neutrons released from nuclear fission are made of hafnium. The future for nuclear still looks bright even after the accidents in Japan. According to the, ¨Nuclear Engineering Handbook¨ there are 439 plants in operation with over 320 more proposed for the future. To be fair there are some substitutes like the silver, cadmium and indium control rods now available.
In the news recently we have heard about the military industrial complex and their interests in hafnium. One gram of hafnium contains as much energy as 700 pounds of TNT. According to the, ¨New Scientist¨ magazine the US military is developing technologies to use hafnium in its future bombs. The technology is said to produce bombs capable of releasing energy thousands of times greater than conventional weapons. Dr. Bill Herrmannsfeldt of Stanford University is not convinced. The Dr. does not believe that the military should be investing money in technologies that have no scientific basis. As a precaution the Dr. is asking for an independent review of the technology to see if it is scientifically possible.
Worldwide production of hafnium according to the USGS is unknown but we can make a good estimation because we know that hafnium is a byproduct of zirconium mining. Hafnium is a 15% impurity in Zircon ore. The USGS states that 1200t of zirconium are mined per year this would give us approximately 180t of hafnium. Official production is said to be 70t annually. This is a very small amount compared to many other elements and because there is very little information about the amounts of production it makes it difficult to have exact figures. Unlike many rare industrial metals hafnium is not primarily controlled by China.
Australia is the world´s largest producer. The production of hafnium is expected to increase approximately 4-4.5% annually. Hafnium has increased in value tremendously over the years. For over 30 years it consistently could be purchased in the vicinity of $200,000 per ton, now we have prices approaching $1,000,000 a ton. That is quite an increase. Inflation or demand, either way hafnium is performing very well for the producers and investors of the metal.