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General

  • Tantalum is a chemical element with the symbol Ta and atomic number 73. A rare, hard, blue-grey, lustrous, transition metal, tantalum is highly corrosion-resistant and occurs naturally in the mineral tantalite.
  • Tantalum is dark, dense, ductile, very hard, easily fabricated, and highly conductive of heat and electricity.
  • The metal is renowned for its resistance to corrosion by acids; in fact, at temperatures below 150 C tantalum is almost completely immune to attack by the normally aggressive aqua regia.
  • Tantalum's high melting point of 3017 C (boiling point 5458 C) is exceeded only by tungsten and rhenium for metals, and carbon.

Process

  • The extraction and refining of tantalum, including the separation from niobium in these various tantalum-containing mineral concentrates, is generally accomplished by treating the ores with a mixture of hydrofluoric and sulfuric acids at elevated temperatures.
  • The filtration of the digestion slurry, and further processing via solvent extraction using methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK) or liquid ion exchange using an amine extractant in kerosene, produces highly purified solutions of tantalum and niobium.
  • The consolidation of metal powder for ingot and processing into various metallurgical products begins with either vacuum arc melting or electron beam melting of metal feedstocks, comprised of powder or high purity scrap where the elements with boiling points greater than tantalum are not present.

Application

  • The major use for tantalum, as the metal powder, is in the production of electronic components, mainly capacitors and some high-power resistors.
  • Tantalum is also used to produce a variety of alloys that have high melting points, are strong and have good ductility.
  • Tantalum, because of its ductility, tantalum can be drawn into fine wires or filaments, which are used for evaporating metals such as aluminium.
  • The oxide is used to make special high refractive index glass for camera lenses. The metal is also used to make vacuum furnace parts.

Market

  • Increase in tantalum prices cannot be attributed to a real deficit in the tantalum market, but rather to a perceived shortage caused by the ordering of additional material in the tantalum capacitor market.
  • The tantalum market is very much dependent on the growing demand for tantalum capacitors, representing some 60 per cent of total global tantalum demand, in the electronic industry.
  • The market for tantalum products in South Africa, as in other developing countries, is expanding.
  • The majority of tantalum products are imported into the country as capacitors or as part of finished products. Approximately 35 per cent of the capacitors are made for cellular phone manufacturers.

Report

  • The Nuweibi deposit was mothballed due to the low Ta2O5 price and a lack of suitable technologies capable of processing fine-grained tantalum ores.
  • Gippsland's previous Abu Dabbab metallurgical test-work, and the pilot-plant programme currently being undertaken in Australia have demonstrated high levels of tantalum recovery.
  • The Egyptian incorporated company Tantalum Egypt is owned equally by Gippsland and the Egyptian Geological Survey & Mining Authority.
  • The provisions of Law No. 8/1997 will also enable Tantalum Egypt to enjoy a twenty year exemption from taxation of profits. These investment incentives shall apply to both the Abu Dabbab and Nuweibi deposits.

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