In addition to resisting HCl at all concentrations and at temperatures above the boiling temperature, zirconium and its alloys also have excellent resistance in sulfuric acid at temperatures above boiling and concentrations to 70%. Corrosion rate in nitric acid is less than 1 mil/year at temperatures above boiling and concentrations to 90%. The metals also resist most organics such as acetic acid and acetic anhydride as well as citric, lactic, tartaric, oxalic, tannic, and chlorinated organic acids.
Relatively few metals besides zirconium can be used in chemical processes requiring alternate contact with strong acids and alkalis. However, zirconium has no resistance to hydrofluoric acid and is rapidly attacked, even at very low concentrations.
Zirconium alloys can be machined by conventional methods, but they have a tendency to gall and work harden during machining. Consequently, tools with higher than normal clearance angles are needed to penetrate previously work-hardened surfaces. Results can be satisfactory, however, with cemented carbide or high-speed steel tools. Carbide tools usually provide better finishes and higher productivity.
Mill products are available in four principal grades: 702, 704, 705, and 706. These metals can be formed, bent, and punched on standard shop equipment with a few modifications and special techniques. Grades 702 (unalloyed) and 704 (Zr-Sn-Cr-Fe alloy) sheet and strip can be bent on conventional press-brake or roll-forming equipment to a 5t bend radius at room temperature and to 3t at 200°C. Grades 705 and 706 (Zr-Cb alloys) can be bent to a 3t and 2.5t radius at room temperature and to about 1.5t at 200°C.
Zirconium has better weldability than some of the more common construction metals including some alloy steels and aluminum alloys. Low distortion during welding stems from a low coefficient of thermal expansion. Zirconium is most commonly welded by the gas-tungsten arc (GTAW) method, but other methods can also be used, including gas metal-arc (GMAW), plasma-arc, electron-beam, and resistance welding.
Welding zirconium requires proper shielding because of the metal’s reactivity to gases at welding temperatures. Welding without proper shielding (argon or helium) causes absorption of oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen from the atmosphere, resulting in brittle welds. Although a clean, bright weld results from the use of a proper shielding system, discoloration of a weld is not necessarily an indication of its unacceptability. However, white deposits or a black color in the weld area are not acceptable. A bend test is usually the best way to determine acceptability of a zirconium weld.
Major uses for zirconium and its alloys are as a construction material in the chemical-processing industry. Applications include heat exchangers (for producing hydrogen peroxide, rayon, etc.), drying columns, pipe and fittings, pump and valve housings, and reactor vessels.