Zirconium is a lustrous, greyish-white, soft, ductile, malleable metal that is solid at room temperature, though it is hard and brittle at lesser purities. In powder form, zirconium is highly flammable, but the solid form is much less prone to ignition. Zirconium is highly resistant to corrosion by alkalis, acids, salt water and other agents. However, it will dissolve in hydrochloric and sulfuric acid, especially when fluorine is present. Alloys with zinc are magnetic at less than 35 K.
The melting point of zirconium is 1855 °C (3371 °F), and the boiling point is 4371 °C (7900 °F). Zirconium has an electronegativity of 1.33 on the Pauling scale. Of the elements within the d-block with known electronegativities, zirconium has the fifth lowest electronegativity after hafnium, yttrium, lanthanum, and actinium.
At room temperature zirconium exhibits a hexagonally close-packed crystal structure, α-Zr, which changes to β-Zr, a body-centered cubic crystal structure, at 863 °C. Zirconium exists in the β-phase until the melting point.
Naturally occurring zirconium is composed of five isotopes. 90Zr, 91Zr, 92Zr and 94Zr are stable, although 94Zr is predicted to undergo double beta decay (not observed experimentally) with a half-life of more than 1.10×1017 years. 96Zr has a half-life of 2.4×1019 years, and is the longest-lived radioisotope of zirconium. Of these natural isotopes, 90Zr is the most common, making up 51.45% of all zirconium. 96Zr is the least common, comprising only 2.80% of zirconium.
Twenty-eight artificial isotopes of zirconium have been synthesized, ranging in atomic mass from 78 to 110. 93Zr is the longest-lived artificial isotope, with a half-life of 1.53×106 years. 110Zr, the heaviest isotope of zirconium, is the most radioactive, with an estimated half-life of 30 milliseconds. Radioactive isotopes at or above mass number 93 decay by electron emission, whereas those at or below 89 decay by positron emission. The only exception is 88Zr, which decays by electron capture.
Five isotopes of zirconium also exist as metastable isomers: 83mZr, 85mZr, 89mZr, 90m1Zr, 90m2Zr and 91mZr. Of these, 90m2Zr has the shortest half-life at 131 nanoseconds. 89mZr is the longest lived with a half-life of 4.161 minutes.
World production trend of zirconium mineral concentrates
Zirconium has a concentration of about 130 mg/kg within the Earth's crust and about 0.026 μg/L in sea water. It is not found in nature as a native metal, reflecting its intrinsic instability with respect to water. The principal commercial source of zirconium is zircon (ZrSiO4), a silicate mineral, which is found primarily in Australia, Brazil, India, Russia, South Africa and the United States, as well as in smaller deposits around the world. As of 2013, two-thirds of zircon mining occurs in Australia and South Africa. Zircon resources exceed 60 million tonnes worldwide and annual worldwide zirconium production is approximately 900,000 tonnes. Zirconium also occurs in more than 140 other minerals, including the commercially useful ores baddeleyite and kosnarite.
Zirconium is relatively abundant in S-type stars, and it has been detected in the sun and in meteorites. Lunar rock samples brought back from several Apollo missions to the moon have a high zirconium oxide content relative to terrestrial rocks.