Monday, March 19, 2012

Zirconium Rhymes With Titanium

Zirconium has a long, illustrious history in jewelery. The element's name derives from an ancient word for the gemstone, zircon.  The element is more commonly found in cubic zirconia, which--thanks to the Soviet method for making it using the so-called skull process--is cheap and plentiful.

Zirconium rhymes with titanium. Often, such transition-metal family members mimic each other. Zirconium, like titanium, is a valuable catalyst for making plastics. I know--yawn. But catalysis is an intellectually interesting aspect of chemistry--one which has "real-life" analogy--much like status quo and change.

Catalysts are classified as "heterogeneous" or "homogeneous" depending on whether they mix freely with hoi polloi substrates. "Heterogeneous" means that the catalyst stays in a different phase than whatever it's working on--e.g., a catalytic converter working on gas phase exhaust. Homogeneous catalysts swim in a liquid phase like everything else around it--in a single phase.

First generation Ziegler-Natta catalysts were heterogeneous. Catalysis happened at the edges or face of a chunk or pellet.  Obviously, a lot of unused catalyst lies buried inside- and is wasted. Homogeneous catalysts are known for their "atom efficiency"-- a concept that becomes more important for rarer platinum group metals.


  1. But, but, but what about hafnium!? How many "spotlight" articles have you done, focusing on the elements, without giving hafnium its fair due? Where's the justice? Where's the respect? I know it's an obscure one, with God knows how little use. But someday it will achieve prominence and fame... A use will be found that will blow the entire world away - to smithereens! I just feel it. Maybe it will be the first fuel for successfully carrying out cold fusion.

    Plus, it has a really cool name.

    Just you wait, other elements! Hafnium will have its say one day, and you'll all be jealous then! And sorry!

  2. Dude, you have no clue what I intend to do with halfnium--all inspired by a comment you made here a few months ago.