Zirconia (ZrO2)

Zirconium dioxide (ZrO2), sometimes known as zirconia (not to be confused with zircon), is a white crystalline oxide of zirconium. Its most naturally occurring form, with a monoclinic crystalline structure, is the mineral baddeleyite. A dopant stabilized cubic structured zirconia, cubic zirconia, is synthesized in various colours for use as a gemstone and a diamond simulant.


Three phases are known: monoclinic <1,170 °C, tetragonal 1,170–2,370 °C, and cubic >2,370 °C.[2] The trend is for higher symmetry at higher temperatures, as is usually the case. A few percentage of the oxides of calcium or yttrium stabilize the cubic phase.[1] The very rare mineral tazheranite (Zr,Ti,Ca)O2 is cubic. Unlike TiO2, which features six-coordinate Ti in all phases, monoclinic zirconia consists of seven-coordinate zirconium centres. This difference is attributed to the larger size of Zr atom relative to the Ti atom.[3]

Zirconium dioxide is one of the most studied ceramic materials. ZrO2 adopts a monoclinic crystal structure at room temperature and transitions to tetragonal and cubic at higher temperatures. The volume expansion caused by the cubic to tetragonal to monoclinic transformation induces large stresses, and these stresses cause ZrO2 to crack upon cooling from high temperatures. When the zirconia is blended with some other oxides, the tetragonal and/or cubic phases are stabilized. Effective dopants include magnesium oxide (MgO), yttrium oxide (Y2O3, yttria), calcium oxide (CaO), and cerium(III) oxide (Ce2O3).[4]

Zirconia is often more useful in its phase ‘stabilized’ state. Upon heating, zirconia undergoes disruptive phase changes. By adding small percentages of yttria, these phase changes are eliminated, and the resulting material has superior thermal, mechanical, and electrical properties. In some cases, the tetragonal phase can be metastable. If sufficient quantities of the metastable tetragonal phase is present, then an applied stress, magnified by the stress concentration at a crack tip, can cause the tetragonal phase to convert to monoclinic, with the associated volume expansion. This phase transformation can then put the crack into compression, retarding its growth, and enhancing the fracture toughness. This mechanism is known as transformation toughening, and significantly extends the reliability and lifetime of products made with stabilized zirconia. [4][5]

The ZrO2 band gap is dependent on the phase (cubic, tetragonal, monoclinic, or amorphous) and preparation methods, with typical estimates from 5–7 eV (0.80–1.12 aJ).[6]

A special case of zirconia is that of tetragonal zirconia polycrystal, or TZP, which is indicative of polycrystalline zirconia composed of only the metastable tetragonal phase.


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