Forms of Beryllium
The three primary forms of beryllium produced are beryllium-containing alloys, pure beryllium metal and beryllia ceramics, also known as beryllium oxide ceramic.
When combined with base metals like copper and nickel in small percentages (typically 0.3% to about 2.0% by weight), beryllium can have a remarkable impact on the properties of the resulting alloys. Such alloys account for about 65% of annual U.S. beryllium production.
- Copper Beryllium. Adding beryllium to copper creates an alloy with a great combination of properties including strength, formability and elasticity (or “springiness”). Yet, much of the electrical conductivity of the copper is preserved. Copper beryllium is highly valued in aerospace, automotive, energy exploration and telecommunications applications.
- Nickel Beryllium. Many mechanical and electrical springs depend on nickel beryllium alloys to perform at elevated temperatures without relaxing or deforming. It is highly conductive to electricity, formable and resistant to corrosion. Nickel beryllium is often used in household oven controls, fire detection equipment and building fire suppression sprinkler systems, and in high temperature automotive engine and exhaust control systems.
Beryllium metal is strong, light in weight and dimensionally stable across a wide range of temperatures. Representing 20% of annual US production, it performs in:
- Military and aerospace applications. Including aircraft, satellites, NASA’s Space Shuttle, optical and navigational control systems.
- Medical applications. Beryllium is strong, while also being virtually transparent to x-rays. Beryllium is fabricated into window material that must maintain a vacuum seal while allowing a focused beam of x-rays powering high resolution diagnostic equipment for CAT scanning, conventional x-raying and mammography.
- Nuclear and energy research. Beryllium metal is valued in nuclear research reactors and particle physics research because it effectively “moderates” neutrons, a critical control function in nuclear fission or advanced nuclear fusion reactors.
Accounting for about 15% of U.S. beryllium production, beryllia ceramics are valued for their hardness and strength, along with their ability to effectively conduct temperatures and insulate in electrical applications. In medicine, beryllia ceramics safely contain the internal heat of small medical lasers and endoscopes. Beryllia ceramics also make ideal substrates for high powered integrated circuits - a thin layer can extract excess heat while providing excellent electrical insulation.