Firstly discovered as the oxide in beryl by Vauquelin in 1798, it was not isolated until 1828 by Wöhler and independently by Bussy by the action of potassium on beryllium chloride. It is found in more than 30 minerals species the most important of which is beryl (3BeO∙Al2O3∙6SiO2), which is the commercial source of the element and its compounds. It is generally prepared by reducing beryllium fluoride with magnesium metal.
The metal its self has a steel grey appearance. It has an extremely high melting point 1290°C (2354°F) and is the most lightweight except for magnesium of the common metals. It is nonmagnetic, has approximately 40% the electrical conductivity of copper and has a modulus of elasticity one third greater that of steel. It exhibits high permeability to X-rays.
Beryllium (Be) powder can be hot pressed into blocks or billet form and can be thermo-mechanically processed to extrude billet and cross-rolled sheet. Beryllium parts are generally made by machining from blocks. This tends to leave behind a damaged surface layer, which is removed by etching for stressed applications.
Applications for beryllium are outlined below:
- Beryllium is used for an alloying agent for copper production, extensively used in springs, electrical contacts, spot-welding electrodes and non-sparking tools.
- Structural materials for high-speed aircraft, missiles (nozzles), spacecraft and aircraft brakes.
- Gyroscopes, computer parts, and inertial guidance instruments where lightness, stiffness, and dimensional stability are required.
- Precision mirrors, radiation detectors, X-ray windows, neutron sources, nuclear reactor reflectors.
- It can be used as an alloying element to produce beryllium-aluminium, beryllium-copper, and beryllium-nickel alloys.