Beryllium is a silvery-white brittle metal at room temperature. It is relatively rare; in order to obtain it in its elemental form, it must be extracted from Be-containing minerals, such as beryl (i.e. appearing in the form of gemstones, such as aquamarine or emerald).
Elemental beryllium is highly toxic, but it is the only stable light metal, remaining unaffected by air or water (even at high temperature).
The first patent featuring beryllium was published in 1899; it concerned the ‘The Production of Obtainment of Metallic Beryllium from Minerals containing it’ . A more widespread production of beryllium, however, did not occur until World War II, when alloys of beryllium came into increasing demand.
Tools made of beryllium copper alloys are extremely strong and hard at relatively low weight; nowadays, such properties are utilised in the sports-equipment industry:‘Machinable lean beryllium-nickel alloys containing copper for golf clubs and the like’ (1999).
In addition, beryllium copper alloys do not create sparks, when they strike another metal, rendering them ideal components in the oil- and gas-industry.
Beryllium has found some niche applications in the aerospace industry, where its low density, thermal stability and thermal conductivity make it an ideal material for structural components of air- and space-craft, missiles and projectiles:
- ‘Mode of making a Beryllium Rotor of an electrostatic Gyroscope’ (2005), and
- ‘Improvements in Gas Generators such as Rocket Engines’ (1966).
One of the oldest and still most wide-spread applications of beryllium is in radiation windows for X-ray tubes, due to the element’s low atomic number and very low absorption of X-rays: ‘Roentgen Tube’ (1927).