Hafnium is defined as a silvery, shiny, ductile metal that is chemically similar to zirconium. It is found in numerous zirconium minerals as a tetravalent transition metal. The physical properties of hafnium are markedly hampered by the zirconium impurities, as these metals are difficult to separate due to their chemical similarity. The most notable difference between hafnium and zirconium is their density, as hafnium has twice the density of zirconium. Hafnium possess excellent chemical properties and is resistant to chemicals and oxidation. The metal is even resistant to concentrated alkalis. The usage of hafnium-free zirconium in nuclear reactors in the late 1950s made hafnium easily available.
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However, the rarity of hafnium and difficult and expensive separation techniques make it a scarce commodity. In zirconium ore, hafnium exists in a ratio of 1:50 to zirconium. Hafnium is produced as a byproduct during the purification of zirconium. Obtained hafnium has high thermal resistance, which makes it useful in numerous applications such as super alloys in industrial turbines and jet engines for aircraft. On the basis of type, the market for hafnium can be segmented into hafnium carbide, hafnium oxide, and others. In terms of application, the hafnium market can be segmented into optical coatings, plasma cuttings, super alloys, and others.
The hafnium market is anticipated to expand at a moderate growth rate during the forecast period due to the difficult and expensive separation process. There are several driving factors of this market such as rising demand for super alloys for applications in gas turbines and the aerospace industry. Increasing usage of hafnium in nuclear, photographic, and semiconductors applications are likely to present potential opportunities for the hafnium market during the forecast period. In terms of application, the super alloys segment held a significant share of the market in 2016, and is projected to expand at a robust growth rate during the forecast period. Hafnium is employed in alloys with titanium, tantalum, iron, and titanium.
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Addition of hafnium in small quantities increases the adherence of protective scales in nickel-based alloys. The super alloys segment was followed by the nuclear segment in terms of market share in 2016. Hafnium has applications in nuclear reactors as control rods due its ability to absorb multiple neutrons. Excellent mechanical and corrosion resistance properties possessed by hafnium make it applicable in the harsh environment of pressurized water reactors.