Zirconium adding resistance capabilities to copper for an increase in hardness while handling higher temperatures

Name a metal alloy that has been used for centuries, and many people will think of aluminum, iron or copper. Yet Zirconium should also be added to the list. There are numerous products in our workplaces and our homes that uses this silvery-gray metal, such as lamp filaments, television glass, and even in some deodorants. This versatile alloy is both ductile and malleable, as it can be alloyed to other master alloys such as copper to offer enhanced corrosion properties.

Zirconium alloys are mostly desired due to their enhanced corrosion resistance as well as their thermal conductivity and electrical conductivity. So you often find it used in the chemical industry. In addition, when Zirconium is alloyed into copper to create a master alloy, it provides deoxidizing capabilities when you are working with copper materials to make components and end products.

It is because of these benefits that many manufacturers will add Zirconium to copper-based alloys. Copper has many of the same properties as Zirconium, such as it being malleable, ductile, thermally conductive and electrically conductive. However, copper softens rapidly at higher temperatures, which can be undesirable when performing hot forging and machining. In addition, copper can encounter deformations when at higher temperatures as you want to avoid this issue during bending processes.

These deformations in copper are often caused by the introduction of oxygen during the melt. Oxygen from the environment and from when it is injected into the melt during the fluxing process can cause the copper to form pits, bubbles and cracks after being placed into the mold. This oxidation can harm the mechanical properties of the metal, making it brittle and of lesser quality. By adding small amounts of Zirconium Copper into the melt of other copper materials, the Zirconium Copper targets the dissolved oxygen and reduces it throughout. So there is less bubbles and pitting in the copper metal when it cools.

In addition, when a small amount of Zirconium is added to copper, this alloy increases the heat resistance of the copper metal and hardens the metal’s resistance to softening in a process called grain refinement. Zirconium Copper causes smaller crystallites (called grains) to form in the melted copper material so that the grains are finer while containing less defects when solidifying. So manufacturers have better control over the mechanical properties of the copper alloys while being able to increase the metal’s yield strength.

Hardening the copper provides a range of benefits depending on the manufacturing process and the type of end product that is being created. Not a lot of zirconium needs to be added to obtain these benefits. At only 0.15% Zirconium, copper can obtain a softening temperature resistance of up to 972 degrees Fahrenheit (500 degrees Celsius) where normally pure copper by itself can only stand up to 572 degrees Fahrenheit (300 degrees Celsius).

You can also obtain a Vickers hardness of 150HV with Zirconium Copper, although for many applications you wouldn’t need to reach this level of hardness with your metal alloys. Zirconium Copper, when combined with other copper materials, is commonly used in electrical, consumer and industrial products due to its mechanical and electrical properties.

Here at Belmont Metals, our Brooklyn, New York facility provides Zirconium Copper in broken slab, waffle, gram and down pieces. These metal alloys are perfect when you are looking to add the master alloy into a target metal to improve its mechanical properties through grain refinement, deoxidation to remove excess oxygen during the melt, or when you want better heat resistant properties in a charge batch.

We offer 10%, 13%, 30%, and 50% Zirconium Copper as well as 67/33 Copper Zirconium. To decide on the right composition of the metal alloy based on your manufacturing needs, reach out to our engineers or metallurgists. We can discuss the formulation of the master alloy so you can add the right quantities to create the desired end product.