Yttrium

At A Glance: Y

Atomic Number: 39
Atomic Symbol: Y
Atomic Weight: 88.9059
Electron Configuration: [Kr]5s24d1
Atomic Radius: 219 pm (Van der Waals)
Melting Point: 1522 °C
Boiling Point: 3345 °C
Oxidation States: 3
Sources: Improves efficiency of fuels; microwave and cellular communications devices for defense, satellites and phones; jet engine turbines; laser crystals specific to spectral characteristics for military communications; red color in televisions and computer screens. Yttrium stabilized cubic zirconia produces simulated diamonds.

Uses: While yttrium occurs in nearly all of the rare earth minerals, ion-adsorption ores provide the bulk of the world’s Yttrium. Recovered commercially from monazite sand, which contains about 3%, and from bastnasite, which contains about 0.2%. Analysis of lunar rock samples obtained during the Apollo missions show a relatively high yttrium content.

Content provided by Los Alamos National Laboratory. Used with permission.

Rare earth element - Yttrium
Rare earth element - Yttrium
Yttrium Spin Video

Photos of rare earth elements used on our site are copyright of Max Whitby and Theodore Gray. Used with permission.

Yttrium, making up only about 0.2% of the Rare Earth content of Bastnasite, is typically not recovered from this mineral. Rather, ion-adsorption ores provide the bulk of the world’s Yttrium. Every vehicle contains Yttrium based materials that help improve the efficiency of fuels, thereby eliminating excess pollution. Another important use of Yttrium is in microwave communication devices for the defense and satellite industries.

Yttrium Iron Garnets (YIG) are used as resonators for use in frequency meters, magnetic field measurement devices, tunable transistors and Gunn oscillators. Yttrium containing garnets are used in cellular communications devices by industries such as defense, satellites and phones.

Yttrium and other Lanthanides have many high-tech and defense uses including being used as a stabilizer and mold former for exotic light-weight jet engine turbines and other parts, and as a stabilizer material in rocket nose cones. Yttrium, as well as many other Lanthanides, can also be formed into laser crystals specific to spectral characteristics for military communications.

Yttrium ceramics can be used as crucibles for melting reactive metals and as nozzles for jet casting molten alloys. The benefits of Yttrium are also obtained by coating the oxide on other substrates. The precision investment casting of titanium utilizes the oxide as the face coat on the exposed surface of the casting mold.

Small amounts of yttrium (0.1 to 0.2%) can be used to reduce the grain size in chromium, molybdenum, zirconium, and titanium, and to increase strength of aluminum and magnesium alloys.

Alloys with other useful properties can be obtained by using yttrium as an additive. The metal can be used as a deoxidizer for vanadium and other nonferrous metals. The metal has a low cross section for nuclear capture. 90Y, one of the isotopes of yttrium, exists in equilibrium with its parent 90Sr, a product of nuclear explosions. Yttrium has been considered for use as a nodulizer for producing nodular cast iron, in which the graphite forms compact nodules instead of the usual flakes. Such iron has increased ductility.

Yttrium also can be used in laser systems and as a catalyst for ethylene polymerization reactions.

Everyday products also utilize Yttrium. Each car contains oxygen sensors composed of Yttrium based ceramic materials. These sensors provide for the most efficient use of fuel and eliminate excess pollution from burnt fuels. Yttrium can also be found in your home as Yttrium-Europium phosphors produce the red color in CRT televisions and computer screens. And maybe even on your hand, as Yttrium stabilized cubic zirconia produces simulated diamonds.

History

Namded after Ytterby, a village in Sweden near Vauxholm. Yttria– earth containing yttrium– was discovered by Gadolin in 1794. Ytterby is the site of a quarry which yielded many unusual minerals containing rare earths and other elements. This small town, near Stockholm, bears the honor of giving names to erbium, terbium, and ytterbium as well as yttrium.

In 1843 Mosander showed that yttira could be resolved into the oxides (or earths) of three elements. The name yttria was reserved for the most basic one; the others were named erbia and terbia.

Sources

Yttrium occurs in nearly all of the rare earth minerals. Analysis of lunar rock samples obtained during the Apollo missions show a relatively high yttrium content.

It is recovered commercially from monazite sand, which contains about 3%, and from bastnasite, which contains about 0.2%. Wohler obtained the impure element in 1828 by reduction of the anhydrous chloride with potassium. The metal is now produced commercially by reduction of the fluoride with calcium metal. It can also be prepared by other techniques.

Properties

Yttrium has a silver-metallic luster and is relatively stable in air. Turnings of the metal, however, ignite in air if their temperature exceeds 400°C. Finely divided yttrium is very unstable in air.

Isotopes

Natural yttrium contains one isotope, 89Y. Nineteen other unstable isotopes have been characterized.

Sources: Los Alamos National Laboratory; Molycorp

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