The global zirconium market size is expected to witness lucrative growth owing to rising number of industrial applications for zirconium. It is a lithophile metallic element and forms various minerals, such as baddeleyite and zircon. Owing to the stable presence of zircon and low stability of Zr(OH)4, zirconium shows low mobility under most environmental conditions. Zircon occurs in volcanic and plutonic rocks. Commercially, zircon is extracted as a coproduct with other minerals, such as rutile, ilmenite, and gold. Various commercial methods are used for the production of zirconium including reduction of halides with calcium or sodium, decomposition, and fusion electrolysis.
Expansion of nuclear sector has created a favorable impact on the market development as the product finds application as a construction material in the nuclear industry. Properties, such as structural length and high heat and chemical corrosion resistance and low neutron absorption, make it suitable for nuclear applications. It is used as cladding or outer covering for fuel rods that triggers a nuclear reaction. Zirconium alloys, which consist of zirconium, nickel, iron, chromium, and tin are used for cladding purposes in nuclear and military reactors. The alloys of these metals are used in the manufacturing of lamp filaments, flashbulbs, surgical instruments, precision tools, explosive primers, gemstones, glass, ceramics and rayon spinnerets.
Among all the ceramics materials available in healthcare, zirconia has good mechanical properties. Significant development and improvements in zirconia-based ceramics coupled with more controlled processes are expected to represent multiple opportunities in upcoming years. Zirconia has flexural strength between a range of 800 and 1000 Mpa, which is better than the strength of other ceramics used for dental applications. In recent years, prosthetic applications of products, such as fixation of partial dentures and fabrication of crowns with CAD/CAM techniques are widely used for dentistry. According to the type, the market can be classified into zircon, zirconia, and others.
Among these, zircon has the highest demand for various industrial purposes including casting and foundry. Zirconium dioxide (ZrO2) or zirconia is a metal oxide, which has wide applications in ceramics. It has high thermal stability and can be used in high-temperature ceramics in furnaces. The nanoparticles of ZrO2 appear in white powder form. It can be used in the production of artificial jewelry and insulating and abrasive materials. According to the application, the market is segmented into nuclear power, chemical process, glass and ceramics, electronics, and others. Owing to its chemical corrosion resistance properties, the product can be used in acetic, formic, nitric, and sulfuric acids.
Other uses include heat exchangers, columns, pressure vessels, piping systems, vacuum tubes, and condensers. The global market is said to be critically impacted due to the advent of substitutes to zircon products. For instance, calcined alumina can be used in ceramics applications for a body, engobes, and glazes instead of zircon. However, these substitutes have technical limitations and this factor is likely to help maintain the market growth. On the basis of geographic regions, the market can be classified into North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, Central & South America, and Middle East & Africa. Countries, such as South Africa, Australia, U.S., and Indonesia, are among the largest producers of zirconium minerals.
China is one of the largest consumers of the product owing to rapidly growing nuclear sector and large exports of ceramics where zirconium silicate is a key raw material. According to the World Nuclear Association, China currently has more than 40 nuclear power stations. Also, the Energy Action Plan of the country’s government has the aim to reach 58 gigawatt (GW) nuclear power by 2020. Some of the key companies in the zirconium market include Iluka Resource Ltd., The Chemours Company, Southern Ionics Incorporated, Allegheny Technologies (ATI), MZI Resources Ltd., Murray Zircon Pty Ltd., Mineral Commodities Ltd., Saint-Gobain ZirPro, Rio Tinto Group, Kenmare Resources plc., Alkane Resources Ltd., Tronox Ltd., and MEL Chemicals Inc.
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