Tantalum ores are found primarily in Australia, Canada, Brazil, and central Africa, with some additional quantities originating in southeast Asia. The average yearly growth rate of about 8 to 12% in tantalum demand since about 1995 has caused a significant increase in exploration for this element. Tantalum minerals with over 70 different chemical compositions have been identified. Those of greatest economic importance are tantalite, microlite, and wodginite; however, it is common practice to name any tantalum-containing mineral concentrate as 'tantalite' primarily because it will be processed for the tantalum values and is sold on that basis. Tantalum mineral concentrates may contain from two to more than five different tantalum-bearing minerals from the same mining area. The sale of tantalum mineral concentrates is based on a certified analysis for the tantalum oxide they contain, with a range from 10 or 15 to over 60% depending on the mine source.

The single largest source of tantalum mineral concentrates is the production by Sons of Gwalia Ltd. from its Greenbushes and Wodgina mines in Western Australia. These two mines combined produce between 25 and 35% of the world's supply, with production in 2001 reported at approximately 1.8 million pounds. Additional operating mines are the Tanco Mine (Cabot) in Manitoba, Canada, the Kenticha Mine (Ethiopia Minerals Development Authority) in Ethiopia, the Yichun Mine in China, and the Pitinga Mine (Paranapanema) and Mibra Mine (Metallurg) in Brazil. Additional quantities are available from Brazil through the processing of small alluvial deposits by prospectors and in numerous countries in Africa, such as Rwanda, Namibia, Uganda, DRC-Kinshasa, Zaire, Gabon, Nigeria, South Africa, and Burundi. Mining investment in Africa has been curtailed due to political instability and associated risk.

The central African countries of Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC-Kinshasa) and Rwanda and their neighbours used to be the source of significant tonnages. But civil war, plundering of national parks and exporting of minerals, diamonds and other natural resources to provide funding of militias has caused the Tantalum-Niobium International Study Center to call on its members to take care to obtain their raw materials from lawful sources. Members should refrain from purchasing materials from regions where either human welfare or wildlife are threatened.

The downsizing of the tin industry in southeast Asia and elsewhere over the period of 1980 through about 1990 has led to the reduction of tantalum oxide units available from tin slags, a by-product of the smelting of cassiterite ore concentrates for tin production. Although some tin slags are available from new tin production, the primary source today is from the digging up of old dump areas containing 1.5 to about 4.0% tantalum oxide. It should be noted that struverite concentrates have been available from this general area containing 9-12% tantalum oxide.

Scrap recycling generated within the various segments of the tantalum industry accounts for about 20 to 25% of the total input each year.


The extraction and refining of tantalum, including the separation from niobium in these various tantalum-containing mineral concentrates, is generally accomplished by reacting the ores with a mixture of hydrofluoric and sulfuric acids at elevated temperatures. This causes the tantalum and niobium values to dissolve as complex fluorides, and numerous impurities that were present also dissolve. Other elements such as silicon, iron, manganese, titanium, zirconium, uranium, thorium, rare earths, etc. are generally present. 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, will produce highly purified solutions of tantalum and niobium. Generally, the tantalum values in solution are converted into potassium tantalum fluoride (K2TaF7) or tantalum oxide (Ta2O5). The niobium is recovered as niobium oxide (Nb2O5) via neutralization of the niobium fluoride complex with ammonia, forming the hydroxide, followed by calcination to the oxide.

The primary tantalum chemicals of industrial significance, in addition to K2TaF7 and Ta2O5 are tantalum carbide (TaC), tantalum chloride (TaCl5), and lithium tantalate (LiTaO3).

Tantalum metal powder is generally produced by the sodium reduction of the potassium tantalum fluoride in a molten salt system at high temperature. The metal can also be produced by the carbon or aluminum reduction of the oxide or the hydrogen or alkaline earth reduction of tantalum chloride. Capacitor grade powder is produced by the sodium reduction of potassium tantalum fluoride. The choice of process is based on the specific application and whether the resultant tantalum will be further consolidated by processing into ingot, sheet, rod, tubing, wire, and other fabricated articles.

Capacitor grade tantalum powder provides about 60% of the market use of all tantalum shipments. Additional quantities are consumed by tantalum wire for the anode lead as well as for heating elements, shielding, and sintering tray assemblies in anode sintering furnaces.

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. Double and triple melt ingots achieve a very high level of purification with regard to metallics and interstitials. Ingots are used to produce the various metallurgical products named earlier. Ingot stock is also used for the production of such alloys as tantalum-10% tungsten. Ingot and pure scrap are used in the production of land and air-based turbine alloys.

Applications for Tantalum

Tantalum Product


Technical Attributes/Benefits

Tantalum carbide

Cutting tools

Increased high temperature deformation, control of grain growth

Tantalum oxide

- Camera lenses
- X-ray film
- Ink jet printers

- High index of refraction for lens compositions
- Yttrium tantalate phosphor reduces X-ray exposure and enhances image quality
- Wear resistance characteristics. Integrated capacitors in integrated circuits (ICs)

Tantalum powder

Tantalum capacitors for electronic circuits in medical appliances such as hearing aids, pacemakers, airbag protection systems, ignition and motor control modules, GPS, ABS systems in automobiles, laptop computers, cellular phones, Playstation, video cameras, digital still cameras

Low failure rates, operation over a wide temperature range from -55 to +125°C, can withstand severe vibrational forces, high reliability characteristics, small size per microfarad rating/electrical storage capability

Tantalum fabricated sheets, plates, rods, wires

- Sputtering targets
- Chemical process equipment
- Cathodic protection systems for steel structures such as bridges, water tanks
- Prosthetic devices for humans - hips, plates in the skull
- Suture clips
- Corrosion resistant fasteners, i.e. screws, nuts, bolts
- High temperature furnace parts. High temperature alloys for air and land based turbines

- Applications of thin coatings of tantalum, tantalum oxide or nitride coatings to semi-conductors
- Superior corrosion resistance - equivalent in performance to glass. Attack by body fluids is non-existent. Melting point is above 3000°C, but protective atmosphere or high vacuum required. Alloy compositions containing 3-11% tantalum offer high temperature reliability, resistance to corrosion by hot gases.



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