4 Be 9.012182

Be - Beryllium

Chemical Element Beryllium Melting Point °C 1278
Chemical Symbol Be Boiling Point °C 2970
Atomic Number 4 Density g/cm3 1.8
Atomic Weight 9.012182 Oxide BeO

Properties

Beryllium is a relatively soft, light metal (although 3.5 times the density of lithium) and is silvery-white in colour. Beryllium is the 47th most abundant element on Earth and belongs to the Alkaline Earth Metals, which are Group 2 in the Periodic Table. Although right next to lithium in the Periodic Table, beryllium has very different properties, as it is a strong metal with a high melting point (1278°C) and is notably resistant to corrosion. Despite this, as beryllium is highly reactive, it is not found in its pure state and, therefore, is mined from ores. Beryllium has a poisonous nature and is hazardous to humans. When inhaled into the respiratory system, it can cause Berylliosis, an illness which affects the lungs, as well as other organs. Another attribute is that it is an expensive metal relatively rarely found within the Universe, and is only created by the radioactive decay of hydrogen, helium and lithium within a supernova.

History

Only hydrogen, helium and lithium were present at the beginning of the Universe, but traces of beryllium and boron were produced shortly after by the radioactive decay and nuclear reactions among these first three elements. The first discovery of beryllium by humans was in Ancient Egyptian times where emeralds and beryl were mined in the Nubia Desert, but it was not recognised as a new element until 1798, when two men,Abbe- Rene-Just Hauy and Nicholas Louis Vauquelin, discovered it. Hauy and Vauquelin were unable to extract the element, but in 1828 Friedrich Wohler and Antoine- Alexandere-Brutus Bussy independently extracted the element by reacting beryllium chloride with potassium.

Sources

Production of beryllium takes place in Brazil, Argentina, Madagascar, Russia and India, but the majority takes place in the USA.  Commercial production began in 1957, when less than 500 tonnes were refined annually, and although the production has slightly increased, there is still not a huge market for beryllium. Known reserves of beryllium are thought to be greater than 400,000 tonnes, and approximately 10% of consumption is currently recycled (although accurate current data is not available).

Beryllium is not in high demand due to its high cost, and therefore there is a low wastage of beryllium. The recovery of beryllium from copper beryllium alloys is not performed due to the very low content of beryllium in the alloy.

Uses

There are a small number of applications for beryllium due to its very particular characteristics.  Missile and rocket parts are one of the uses, where cost is no object, very strong but light material is needed, and toxicity is not an issue.  Products designed with beryllium, its alloys and beryllium oxide have provided the healthcare industry with increased reliability for a variety of equipment used in surgery, imaging, x-ray and Magnetic Resonance Imaging.  It also has had an effect in the solar technology field, fusion reactors and is helping to develop alternative energy sources.

Copper beryllium has high strength, conductivity and resistance to elevated temperatures, which makes it particularly useful in the automotive electronics industry, including ABS, airbags and collision avoidance radars, as well as its alloys being used in the Information and Communication industry.

References

  • Emsley, John. Nature’s Building Blocks, An A-Z Guide to the Elements, New Edition, Oxford University Press, 2011
  • Gray, Theodore. The Elements, A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc, NY, 2009
  • Stwertka, Albert. A Guide to the Elements, 3rd Edition, Oxford University Press, 2012

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