Australian Strategic Materials (ASM), a wholly owned subsidiary of Alkane Resources, has successfully developed a high‐purity hafnium dioxide (HfO2) product that will be directly marketable as a feed material for a number of downstream applications and for producing metallic hafnium. The technical specifications of this material have been tailored to meet global market requirements, following extensive industry consultation over the past 12 months.
|Process flowsheet. ©Australian Strategic Materials|
Metallic hafnium is the fastest growing market for hafnium and the most significant by volume, particularly due to the use of hafnium in superalloys and other aerospace alloys. The high‐purity hafnium dioxide developed by ASM exceeds 99.8% HfO2, and 99.9% (Hf+Zr)O2, providing the ideal feedstock for the high‐purity metallic hafnium that is in demand for alloying purposes. A high purity hafnium chemical precursor has also been developed.
The new products were produced by a proprietary process at ASM’s Demonstration Pilot Plant at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) in New South Wales, Australia. The process flowsheet for the Dubbo Project consists of a sulphuric acid leach followed by solvent extraction recovery and refining to produce several products, including zirconium, hafnium, niobium and rare earths.
Hafnium market and outlook for future growth
Global demand for hafnium is rising particularly for use in metallic form, which currently accounts for around 85% by volume (60% superalloys, 15% plasma cutting tips, 10% nuclear control rods). Emerging aerospace applications are expected to consume further significant volumes of metallic hafnium. Hafnium dioxide, meanwhile, is emerging as a material of choice in semiconductors and data storage devices (ferro‐electric applications), while many future industries such as those based on its thermo‐electric properties and super high temperature ceramics for supersonic aircraft and space vehicles will also rely on materials containing hafnium.
Projected growth in demand is poised to exceed current production, which is limited to approximately 70tpa (83tpa HfO2), since hafnium is typically only extracted from zirconium processing streams for nuclear energy applications requiring high‐purity zirconium. Market research by ASM and independent international market consultants forecasts a 2026 base demand of 112tpa (132tpa HfO2), and an unconstrained high‐demand case of 151tpa (178tpa HfO2). The Project represents a unique source of hafnium that is independent of all traditional markets – including China (currently accounting for at least 75% of world production of zirconium materials, and over 95% of zirconium chemicals), the nuclear zirconium industry and the zircon industry in general.