Tantulum tantalises!

Tantulum, a metal that does not corrode, is sought for its incredible property

Published: Tuesday 15 April 1997

a process for coating metals so that they never rust has been developed for Russian military projects but could soon be made available to the world. The process has been developed at the Kola Science Centre (ksc) in Arctic Russia. Objects coated with tantalum are almost 100 per cent non-corrosive, with only highly concentrated acids able to penetrate the metal. Tantalum is about 10 times more non-corrosive than titanium, currently used to prevent rusting.

Tantalum is a rare metal found in a remote area of Russia and is currently used for making a gauze to treat hernia patients. It provides the perfect coating material because it is acknowledged to be the most chemically resistive metal on the planet.

When objects are plated with tantalum, an outer surface of tantalum oxide forms, which gives the object its non-corrosive properties. The uses for this are incredible. Car manufacturers could coat body parts, food-processing industries could create clean factories where no rusting takes place and doctors could create new types of non-corrosive artificial joints.

At ksc , objects several metres long are being coated with a 100 per cent success rate. But efforts by Western scientists to plate metals with tantalum have hit several snags. When plating with tantalum, air and moisture have to be almost completely eliminated from the process. Western scientists have so far been unable to solve these problems. The Russian technique, although still largely secret, relies on a new type of furnace created especially for tantalum. It can operate at 700 c with an inert atmosphere. The Russians have only one of these furnaces, but are in the process of building a second, larger version. They then plan to build furnaces with sizes ranging from small units for coating screws and bolts to huge furnaces designed to coat entire car-body parts or boat propellers.

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