Tantalum is an incredibly tough material that can withstand high temperatures and intense force without damage or degradation. Because of this, it is commonly used in materials like cutting tools, armor plating, and machine components. It may not be as well known as other metals, but it is a crucial component of many technologies that are changing our world.
Tantalum carbide (TaC) is a family of binary chemical compounds of tantalum and carbon with the empirical formula TaCx where x usually ranges between 0.4 and 1. It appears as brown-gray powder that can be processed by sintering. The bonding between tantalum and carbon atoms is a mixture of ionic, metallic, and covalent contributions. The resulting materials are extremely hard and brittle, with a Mohs hardness of around 9. It is also very electrically conductive.
The melting point of tantalum is among the highest for binary compounds and is much higher than that of tungsten carbide, which is why it is often added to tungsten carbide/cobalt (WC/Co) powder attritions to increase the materials’ physical properties and performance. Tantalum also makes an excellent grain growth inhibitor, suppressing the formation of large grains and producing a finer microstructure with optimal hardness.
Its thermal conductivity is also helpful in applications like heat sinks and can help prevent the formation of cracks during milling operations. Tantalum is also chemically stable and will not react with most substances, making it a popular choice for manufacturing chemical processing equipment or in storage tanks that contain corrosive chemicals. It is extracted from ores in a variety of ways including through large-scale industrial mining, artisanal and small-scale mining, and recycling.