What is beryllium? Chances are you’ve never heard of it, yet you depend on this metal every day as it helps keep our world connected, healthy, and safe. On a pound for pound basis, beryllium is six times stronger than steel. It is two-thirds the weight of aluminum. Beryllium plays an indispensable role in modern society.
Why beryllium is so unique among metals?
First discovered more than two centuries ago, beryllium is a naturally occurring metallic element found in rocks, coal and oil, even the soil in your backyard.
Beryllium was not widely used in industry until the 1940s and 1950s. In industrial applications, beryllium can be:
- Used as pure metal
- Mmixed with other metals to form alloys
- Processed to form salts that dissolve in water
- Processed to form oxides and ceramic materials.
As an industrial material, beryllium possesses some uncommon qualities such as its ability to withstand extreme heat, remain stable over a wide range of temperatures, and function as an excellent thermal conductor. These attributes make it a unique material suitable for a host of diverse, demanding applications.
Beryllium’s physical and mechanical properties are unmatched by any other metal. For many industries, beryllium isn’t simply the material of choice, it’s the only suitable material for the job.
Combining beryllium with metals such as copper, nickel or aluminum significantly enhances their performance properties. This puts beryllium products in high demand for dozens of industries requiring high-performance applications when reliability is paramount.
Use of beryllium in our everyday life
Modern society stays connected thanks to beryllium and beryllium alloys. Used as base metal in battery contacts and electronic connectors in cell phones and base stations, beryllium copper is often the only material that meets the need for high reliability and miniaturization in these applications. FM radio, high-definition and cable television and underwater fiber optic cable systems also depend on beryllium.
Beryllium keeps civilization humming along safely. Air bag sensors, ignition, power steering and electronic auto systems, fire extinguishers and sprinkler heads all depend on beryllium for optimum performance.
The medical profession relies on beryllium for applications in pacemakers and lasers used to analyze blood for HIV and other diseases. And there is no competitive substitute for beryllium in high-resolution x-ray imaging, or in x-ray windows for mammography equipment.
Beryllium bolsters our nation’s defenses. Military electronic targeting and infrared countermeasure systems use beryllium components, as do advanced missile and radar navigation systems. Beryllium is also a staple material in Apache helicopters, fighter aircraft and tanks, surveillance satellites, and aircraft landing gear components.
Cutting edge computer and laser technology owes much to beryllium. As computers get smaller, lighter and faster, a combination of beryllium and copper is often the only material that enables the computer industry to meet the demands placed on microprocessor connectors. For ultra-high speed optical laser scanners used in copy machines, photo separators and airport luggage handling, there is no competitive substitute for beryllium.
Beryllium plays a critical role in ensuring our health and advancing our world. The quality of our lives and the safety of our environment are immeasurably improved thanks to this unique, indispensable metal.