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What makes refractory metals so unique?

What makes refractory metals so unique?

Many high-risk industries around the world rely on tough materials that can withstand extremely challenging conditions – often utilising uniquely resilient refractory metals.

These metals are special because they have various characteristics that make them far more durable and resistant to harsh conditions than standard metals, improving the function and longevity of many tools and machines that are used every day.

There are five primary metals that are categorised as refractory, which are niobium, molybdenum, tantalum, tungsten, and rhenium. They each possess a selection of highly desirable properties that make them incredibly robust and reliable.

Read on to learn more about the qualities that make refractory metals so unique. 

Resistant to high temperatures

All refractory metals have high melting points above 2,000°C and high boiling points of around 5,000°C, meaning these metals are extremely resistant to high temperatures. 

This high level of heat resistance also enables these elements to retain their shape even under intense heat and pressure, resisting creep deformation and thermal shock. 

Such stability is what makes refractory metals ideal for use in industries with high-temperature environments, such as aerospace, glassmaking, and welding.

Hard, dense, and strong

Other properties that make refractory metals so durable are their hardness, tensile strength, and density, which afford them excellent resistance against abrasion and wear.

Their high tensile strength and hardness allow refractory metals to be used in drilling and cutting tools for machining and mining, as they also resist erosion and heat so well.

While these factors make them suitable for applications such as rocket engines, the high density of these materials is also useful in weights, from military missiles to sports equipment.

Corrosion-resistant conductors

Though other metals may be better electrical conductors, refractory metals can conduct electricity and heat well – with their thermal conductivity and resistance being a practical requirement.

These metals can oxidise easily at certain temperatures, but this gives them a stable oxide outer layer that provides valuable corrosion resistance, extending the life and usage of various components.

When used in chemical equipment or exposed to harsh environments, other metals may rapidly degrade, but refractory metals provide great longevity for parts such as pipes, nozzles, and seals.

Where to find refractory metals

Considering their special properties, it’s no wonder that refractory metals are in high demand for use in a wide range of industries – especially tungsten, which is considered a ‘critical mineral’ in the UK.

Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to find refractory metal parts to order online, which are typically available in a selection of sizes and forms, from sheets and bars to wires and crucibles.

Of course, you must make sure to go to a trusted supplier that specializes in refractory metal fabrication – such as Special Metals, offering tungsten machining and fabrication in addition to a range of other metals, with bespoke measurements and quotes available on request.

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