Tantalum is a valuable metal that is primarily salvaged from sputtering targets. Blueish-gray in appearance, this is a hard metal that is exceedingly rare: in the surface of the crust of the Earth, it only appears in one or two parts per million. The metal is primarily desired for its high resistance to corrosion and for the fact that it is chemically inert.
Because it is inert, this particular metal is safe for use for a wide variety of medical applications. For example, the metal is at times employed as a substitute for platinum in medical and dental tool manufacturing. This metal is also highly durable: at temperatures below 150 degrees Fahrenheit, it can resist powerful acids (including aqua regia, an acid normally capable of melting just about anything).
Tantalum also features incredible heat resistance. In fact, its melting point can only be achieved at 3,017 Celsius. Because of these remarkable properties, it is a fantastic choice for making extremely strong alloys, particularly those intended for extreme conditions. For example, the metal is commonly used in superalloys in rocket construction.
The metal is perhaps most commonly used for capacitors, as it can handle the stress that comes with conducting electricity. Tantalum capacitors can be found in many electronics used by consumers today, such as computers, smartphones, game consoles, and media players.
Tantalum is primarily mined in Rwanda, although significant amounts are also produced elsewhere, including Australia, Brazil, Mozambique, China, Thailand, Malaysia, and Ethiopia. Production of the metal is limited. A 2010 article published in Scientific American, for example, estimated that there was less than 50 years left of the metal to be found in current supplies. It is therefore extremely important to recycle the metal to meet current worldwide needs.
The term sputtering targets is no doubt completely alien to most readers who encounter it. It may require some explanation: in the sense used for salvaging rare materials such as tantalum, sputtering refers to an industrial process. This process consists of harnessing charged particles to erode away other particles from a particular source, in this case a piece of metal known as the sputtering target. The charged particles deposit the eroded particles onto a film for easy recovery.
The film is covered in the desired metal after the process is complete. In the case of this particular metal, the many desirable properties associated with the metal are then ready for extraction.
This process is rather unlike that of a more common and straightforward recycling process with which many consumers are familiar with, such as the comparatively simple process of recycling aluminum. Still, although the two processes are quite different, they’re equally important for long-term sustainability of both the environment and the world’s reserve of rare materials.
Recycling with Republic Alloys
As mentioned earlier, many devices used today depend on the world’s supply of this metal to operate the advanced electronics found in homes and businesses. And with the increased availability and demand of these devices, the need for rare metals such as this one will only increase over time.
As a result, it’s important that recycling of the metal is a priority whenever and wherever possible. Without consistent and regular recycling of rare metals, the future depletion of their stock become more of a problem by the day, and potential innovations in technology may be at risk.
Republic Alloys has been a leader in the scrap metal industry for over a decade and seeks to scrap any sputtering targets out there, including targets containing tantalum and other rare or difficult to handle metals. With experience comes knowledge and an understanding of how to handle complex scrapping jobs.