It has the appearance of a gray metallic powder with cubic crystal structure. It is highly corrosion resistant. Like most carbides of refractory metals, zirconium carbide is sub-stoichiometric, i.e., it contains carbon vacancies. At carbon contents higher than approximately ZrC0.98 the material contains free carbon. ZrC is stable for a carbon-to-metal ratio ranging from 0.65 to 0.98.
Hafnium-free zirconium carbide and niobium carbide can be used as refractory coatings in nuclear reactors. Because of a low neutron absorption cross-section and weak damage sensitivity under irradiation, it finds use as the coating of uranium dioxide and thorium dioxide particles of nuclear fuel. The coating is usually deposited by thermal chemical vapor deposition in a fluidized bed reactor.
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