Element of atomic number 73 in group VB of the
periodic table, aw 180.9479, valences of 2, 3, 5; no
Dust or powder may be flammable. Toxic
Tantalum filaments were used in incandescent lamp bulbs before tungsten replaced them. At temperatures below 150°C, tantalum is attacked only by hydrofluoric acid, fluoride ion in acidic solutions, and free sulfur trioxide. It also is attacked, but slowly, by alkalies. Tantalum and its alloys, therefore, are used to build reactors, vessels, and cruicibles for preparing and carrying out reactions involving many reactive intermediates. The metal and its alloys are used to construct furnace parts, electrolytic capacitors, aircraft and missile parts, chemical process equipment, and nuclear reactors. Being nonreactive to body fluids and a nonirritant to body tissues, tantalum is used in making surgical appliances. Plate and sheet tantalum are applied in bone repair, foil and wire for nerve repair, and plate, gauge, and sheet for repair of abdominal muscle. Tantalum oxide is used to produce optical glasses of high refractive index. The oxide film on the metal makes it a rectifier for converting alternating current to direct current.
Tantalum was discovered by the Swedish chemist Anders Ekeberg in 1802, although for a long time after his discovery many chemists believed tantalum and niobium were the same element. In 1866, Marignac developed a fractional crystallization method for separation of tantalum from niobium. Ekeberg named the element in honor of Tantalus, who was Niobe’s father in Greek mythology.
Tantalum is never found in nature in free elemental form. The most important mineral is columbite-tantalite (Fe,Mn) (Nb,Ta)2O6. Tantalum also is found in minor quantities in minerals pyrochlore, samarskite, euexenite, and fergusonite. The abundance of tantalum in the earth’s crust is estimated as 2 mg/kg.
Tantalum and its alloys have high melting points, high strength and ductility and show excellent resistance to chemical attack. Tantalum carbide graphite composite is one of the hardest substances ever made and has a melting point over 6,700°C. The pure metal is ductile and can be drawn into fine wire, which is used as filament for evaporating aluminum and other metals.
The most common oxidation state of tantalum is +5 and its aqueous solution chemistry is that of its pentavalent ion Ta5+. Ta metal forms a pentavalent oxide, tantalum pentoxide, Ta2O5, on heating with oxygen. However, at ordinary temperatures a thin layer of oxide covering the metal surface protects tantalum from most chemical attacks. The metal is attacked by hydrofluoric acid below 150°C. It also is dissolved by hot fuming sulfuric acid. It reacts with fluorine and chlorine on heating, forming tantalum pentafluoride, TaF5, and pentachloride, TaCl5, respectively. The metal is immune to dilute aqueous alkalies but is attacked slowly by concentrated fused alkalies. It combines with molecular hydrogen above 250°C. The hydride formed decomposes on heating above 800°C in vacuum. Tantalum forms alloys with several metals.
Tantalum dust is a black odorless powder. Mp: 2996°C; bp: approx. 5250°C. Density: 16.65 g cm-3. Insoluble in water. Tantalum oxide dust is a white, microcrystalline powder Mp: 1800°C. Density: 7.6 g cm-3. Insoluble in water. The mixture is listed as a toxic inhalation hazard by OHSA.
In pen points; analytical weights; apparatus and instruments for chemical, surgical, and dental use instead of platinum, in tantalum capacitors (a type of electrolytic condenser, trademarked "Tantalytic").