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Group 5 Elemental Properties

Like the group 4 elements, all group 5 metals are normally found in nature as oxide ores that contain the metals in their highest oxidation state (+5). Because of the lanthanide contraction, the chemistry of Nb and Ta is so similar that these elements are usually found in the same ores.

Three-fourths of the vanadium produced annually is used in the production of steel alloys for springs and high-speed cutting tools. Adding a small amount of vanadium to steel results in the formation of small grains of V4C3, which greatly increase the strength and resilience of the metal, especially at high temperatures. The other major use of vanadium is as V2O5, an important catalyst for the industrial conversion of SO2 to SO3 in the contact process for the production of sulfuric acid. In contrast, Nb and Ta have only limited applications, and they are therefore produced in relatively small amounts. Although niobium is used as an additive in certain stainless steels, its primary application is in superconducting wires such as Nb3Zr and Nb3Ge, which are used in superconducting magnets for the magnetic resonance imaging of soft tissues. Because tantalum is highly resistant to corrosion, it is used as a liner for chemical reactors, in missile parts, and as a biologically compatible material in screws and pins for repairing fractured bones.

The chemistry of the two heaviest group 5 metals (Nb and Ta) is dominated by the +5 oxidation state. The chemistry of the lightest element (V) is dominated by lower oxidation states, especially +4.

Table 1.1.1: Some Properties of the Elements of Group 5
Element Z Valence Electron Configuration Electronegativity Metallic Radius (pm) Melting Point (°C) Density (g/cm3)
Zr 40 5s24d2 1.33 160 1855 6.52
Hf 72 6s25d24f14 1.30 159 2233 13.31
V 23 4s23d3 1.63 134 1910 6.00
Nb 41 5s24d3 1.60 146 2477 8.57
Ta 73 6s25d34f14 1.50 146 3017 16.65

As indicated in Table 1.1.1, the trends in properties of the group 5 metals are similar to those of group 4. Only vanadium, the lightest element, has any tendency to form compounds in oxidation states lower than +5. For example, vanadium is the only element in the group that forms stable halides in the lowest oxidation state (+2). All three metals react with excess oxygen, however, to produce the corresponding oxides in the +5 oxidation state (M2O5), in which polarization of the oxide ions by the high-oxidation-state metal is so extensive that the compounds are primarily covalent in character. Vanadium–oxygen species provide a classic example of the effect of increasing metal oxidation state on the protonation state of a coordinated water molecule: vanadium(II) in water exists as the violet hydrated ion [V(H2O)6]2+; the blue-green [V(H2O)6]3+ ion is acidic, dissociating to form small amounts of the [V(H2O)5(OH)]2+ ion and a proton; and in water, vanadium(IV) forms the blue vanadyl ion [(H2O)4VO]2+, which contains a formal V=O bond (Figure 1.1.2). Consistent with its covalent character, V2O5 is acidic, dissolving in base to give the vanadate ion ([VO4]3−), whereas both Nb2O5 and Ta2O5 are comparatively inert. Oxides of these metals in lower oxidation states tend to be nonstoichiometric.

Because vanadium ions with different oxidation states have different numbers of d electrons, aqueous solutions of the ions have different colors: in acid V(V) forms the pale yellow [VO2]+ ion; V(IV) is the blue vanadyl ion [VO]2+; and V(III) and V(II) exist as the hydrated V3+ (blue-green) and V2+ (violet) ions, respectively.

Although group 5 metals react with the heavier chalcogens to form a complex set of binary chalcogenides, the most important are the dichalcogenides (MY2), whose layered structures are similar to those of the group 4 dichalcogenides. The elements of group 5 also form binary nitrides, carbides, borides, and hydrides, whose stoichiometries and properties are similar to those of the corresponding group 4 compounds. One such compound, tantalum carbide (TiC), has the highest melting point of any compound known (3738°C); it is used for the cutting edges of high-speed machine tools.