Tantalum: the essentials
Tantalum is a greyish silver, heavy, and very hard metal. When pure, it is ductile and can be drawn into fine wire, which can be used as a filament for evaporating metals such as aluminium. Tantalum is almost completely immune to chemical attack at temperatures below 150°C, and is attacked only by hydrofluoric acid, acidic solutions containing the fluoride ion, and free sulphur trioxide. The element has a melting point exceeded only by tungsten and rhenium.
Tantalum: historical information
Niobium was discovered in 1802 by Anders Gustaf Ekeberg, but many chemists thought niobium and tantalum were one and the same. Some felt that perhaps tantalum was an allotrope of niobium. Later, Rose, in 1844, and Marignac, in 1866, showed that niobic and tantalic acids were two different acids.
The first relatively pure tantalum was produced by von Bolton in 1907.
Tantalum: physical properties
Tantalum: orbital properties
Isolation: isolation of tantalum appears to be complicated. Tantalum minerals usually contain both niobium and tantalum. Since they are so similar chemically, it is difficult to separate them. Tantalum can be extracted from the ores by first fusing the ore with alkali, and then extracting the resultant mixture into hydrofluoric acid, HF. Current methodology involves the separation of tantalum from these acid solutions using a liquid-liquid extraction technique. In this process tantalum salts are extracted into the ketone MIBK (methyl isobutyl ketone, 4-methyl pentan-2-one). The niobium remains in the HF solution.
After conversion to the oxide, metallic tantalum can be made by reduction with sodium or carbon. Electrolysis of molten fluorides is also used.