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An ore is any kind of rock or mineral from which a metal can be
profitably extracted. Metals are rarely found uncombined (as elements)
in nature. They are nearly always present in the forms of compounds,
often where the metal is chemically joined with oxygen. Only the most
unreactive metals, like silver and gold will be found pure. The most
common metals are oxides and sulphides. Ores are rocks from which we
extract metals. Metals are found naturally in rocks called ores. They
are in compounds, chemically bonded to other elements. However, the
unreactive metals are at the bottom of the reactivity series can be
found as the elements themselves. We say they are found native. We can
find copper, silver, gold and platinum as the metals in nature.
What factors do companies consider when deciding whether to extract a
metal from its ore?
There are many different factors that the companies will look for, a
few of them are:
- How much will it cost?
- How to extract the metal?
- How much the metal will be worth etc.
What are the three methods of metal extraction?
Given that most metals are only found locked up in their ores, but how
do you go about getting them out? For a few metals, such as mercury,
heat will do the trick. But for most ores the temperatures needed are
far too high to make this a practical possibility. Another approach is
needed. There are three methods of extracting metals from their ores,
- Heating with carbon monoxide
- Roasting in air
Depending on the reactiveness of the metal, looking at the reactivity
series, you can tell how each metal can be extracted.
What is meant by oxidation and reduction in the context of metal
You can use oxidation and reduction to describe chemical reactions
that combine with oxygen or you can use it to describe the electron
transfer. At this stage, you probably just need to concentrate on the
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describe substances that combine with oxygen - they call this type of
reaction, oxidation, and the substance is said to be oxidised.
However, if one substance combines with oxygen, then another substance
must lose oxygen - in this case the substance is reduced or the
reaction is a type of reduction reaction. Oxidation is a loss of
electron and reduction is a gain of electron.
What properties of metals make them such useful materials?
Metals are shiny materials. They are shiny because of their
delocalised electrons (see below). They also make a ringing sound when
struck. They are solids at room temperature (except mercury which is
liquid). Many are hard and have high tensile strength. Some can be cut
with a blunt knife, like the alkali metals of group one. They are
malleable – they can have their shapes changed and ductile – they can
be pulled into wires. They are good conductors of heat and
electricity. They conduct electricity because of their delocalised
electrons (see below again)
Many of the properties of metals are due to metallic bonding: metal
cations are arranged regularly (usually close-packed in hexagonal or
face cantered cubic structures) and are held together by delocalised
electrons. Metals can be visualized more or less like billiard balls
arranged in order, which is why they can move across each other and
that is why the metal can deform.
Extraction of Iron
Carbon is important in the extraction of iron. We use a giant blast
furnace to get the iron from its ore. The raw materials are fed into
the top of the furnace. The raw materials are:
-Iron ore (mainly haematite, iron (III) oxide) the commonest iron ores
are the oxides, haemite and limonite, which are found in sediments in
Britain. The biggest and purest deposits are found in ancient
sediments in Canada, South America, Africa and Australia.
-Coke (a cheap form of carbon, made from coal) is used to fire the
furnace and reduce the ore. At first charcoal were used, but modern
furnaces use coke. This is coal, which has been heated to drive off
oils and gases, leaving fairly pure carbon.
-Limestone (to get rid of sandy waste) this natural source of calcium
carbonate is added to the mixture to remove impurities.
Reactions in the blast furnace
1. The coke (carbon) reacts with oxygen in the hot air to make carbon
C(s) + 0 (g) CO (g)
2. This carbon dioxide reacts with more hot coke to make carbon
CO (g) + C(s) 2CO(g)
3. The carbon monoxide then reduces the iron oxide to iron.
Fe O (s) + 3CO(g) 2Fe(l) + 3CO (g)
4. Limestone gets rid of the sandy bits in the iron ore. They form a
liquid slag (acidic impurities)
iron oxide is reduced to iron by carbon monoxide gas in step 3.
Iron from a blast furnace is called pig iron and contains many
impurities such as high levels of carbon. If this iron is melted and
allowed to cool under careful conditions we get cast iron, which can
be used, for objects such as guttering. However, cast iron is brittle,
not very strong and prone to severe rusting.
If we remove all of the impurities in cast iron we get wrought iron.
However, wrought iron is very soft and is used only for decoration.
If we take pure iron and add back controlled amounts of carbon we make
steel – an alloy of iron. Mild steel (up to 0.25% carbon) increases
the hardness and strength of the iron. Objects such as car bodies are
made from mild steel. High carbon steel (up to 1.5%) increases the
strength of the iron even further and is used to make objects such as
If we add in small amounts of chromium and nickel we make stainless
steel. Stainless steels can be made very strong but their main
advantage is that they are very resistant to rusting (corrosion).
Extraction of aluminium
Aluminium cannot be made by electrolysis in solution, as it would
react with the water- giving hydrogen gas instead. It must therefore
be extracted by the electrolysis of its molten ore. Unfortunately
aluminium’s common oxide ore bauxite has a very high melting point-
over 2000C. So vast amounts of energy would be needed to melt and
split the ore. Aluminium costs five or six times as much as iron,
despite being more common in the earths crust.
Electrolysis is the decomposition of a compound using an electric
current. Basically, the process involves ionic compounds that are
either in solution or are molten. When the compounds are in this
state, the ions are free to move about the melt or solution in a
random fashion. However, if positive and negative electrodes (the
anode and cathode) are dipped into the solution or melt (called an
electrolyte), the ions then drift towards the electrode that has the
opposite charge. Metals always form positive ions and so these drift
towards the negative cathode where they pick up electrons and become
metal atoms again. The result of this is that in many processes the
cathode becomes coated with the metal. The negative ions drift towards
the anode and give up electrons and become non-metal atoms. The result
is that the electrolyte appears to conduct. The process of
electrolysis is used to manufacture of aluminium and in the
purification of copper metal.
Aluminium oxide (Al2O3) has a very high melting point, above 2000oC.
It would be possible to raise it to this temperature and then pass a
current through it, but it would be very expensive.
Cryolite is another aluminium compound, but it has a far lower melting
point and so costs less to heat. This is heated to around 1000oC.
Aluminium oxide dissolves easily in cryolite at this temperature, and
the molecules become ions in solution.
The lining of the cell is graphite, which acts as the cathode. At the
cathode, the reaction;
4 Al3+ + 12 e- à 4 Al
Occurs, and the molten aluminium formed drops to the bottom of the
vessel, where it is drained off.
Purification of Copper
How is impure copper produced?
An electrolytical process produces pure copper; an electrode of impure
copper is suspended in warm diluted sulphuric acid (Anode), whilst a
sheet of pure copper is the Cathode. When the current flows pure
copper leaves the Anode and deposits on the Cathode, any impurities
fall to the bottom of the electrolytic tank. Copper 99.99% pure can be
produced this way and is known as Cathode Copper.
Elctrolytic copper production
Pure Copper is ductile and weak with a density of 8930 kg/m3 and a
melting point of 1084 degrees C. It has good thermal and electrical
conductivity and is readily hot or cold worked. Cold work has the
effect of increasing its tensile strength and hardness due to work
hardening, but reducing its ductility.
It possesses good corrosion resistance being protected by an oxide
layer, which forms on its surface when it reacts with oxygen. Because
of these reasons, pure copper is more useful than impure copper.
Uses of Iron, aluminium and copper
Alloys are metals fused with one or more metals or non-metals. Alloys
may be a solid solution with one metal dissolved in another metal, a
mixture of tiny crystals, a true chemical compound or a mixture of all
three. This complicated structure has a very pronounced effect on the
physical properties of the alloy. The atoms in the alloy cannot "flow"
in the same way as in the pure metal. Alloys can be made that are
harder or more resistant to corrosion. Alloys of steel contain carbon
and many different metals; brass and bronze are alloys of copper.
Metallic glasses and crystalline alloys have also been developed and
metal alloys are sometimes bonded with ceramics, graphite and organic
materials. These new materials are known as composites. Once you
change the internal structure of a metal by introducing a different
sized atom of another metal then the physical properties also change.
Some of the uses of metals in pure form can be listed as follows :
1. Cu, Al pure metals in the form of wires are used for carrying
electrical currents. This is used everywhere in industries as well as
2. Fe, Al, Cu metals are used to make utensils used for cooking. These
are also used to make useful equipments for factories.
3. Fe is used extensively for making magnets, which has extensive uses
in making transformer cores, etc.
4. Zn is used for galvanizing iron to protect Fe from rusting.
5. Cr and Ni are used for electroplating equipments.
6. Fe, Cr, Ni are used to make various types of stainless steel.
7. Metals such as Al, Cu in a foil form are used for packaging
8. Ag, Au and Pt are used to make jewellery. They are also used for
plating items for decorative purposes.
9. Thin foils of Ag and Au are used to decorate food items.
10. Hg is used in thermometers.
11. Almost all metals including Zr, Ti find wide applications in
atomic and space programmes and experiments.
12. Ti finds extensive use in aircraft industries.
13. Al finds extensive use in space and auto industries.
14. Pure metals, which display zero resistance to electrical currents,
are called superconductors. Hg, Nb are examples of superconductors.
They become superconductors below a critical temperature of 4.2 and
9.2 K respectively. Superconductors have many applications in research
The list is endless but the above list gives you a brief idea about
the use of pure metals.
An “alloy” is defined as a substance having metallic properties that
is composed of two or more elements. The elements used as
alloying substances are usually metals or metalloids. The
properties of an alloy differ from the properties of the pure
metals or metalloids that make up the alloy and this difference is
what creates the usefulness of alloys. By combining metals and
metal- loids, manufacturers can develop alloys that have the
particular properties required for a given use.
Some of the uses of metal alloys can be listed as follows :
1. Largest use of alloys in industries is in the form of steel. Steel
is made from a varying proportion of Fe, Ni, Cr and C. Sometimes some
other metals and non-metals are also added.
2. Alloys of Al are made by adding Mg, Mn. They are used in aircraft
industries, auto industries, in making utensils.
3. Alloys of copper such as bronze, brass and German silver are made
from combining Cu with Ni, Zn, Sn etc. They find wide applications in
decorative items, and are used for coating so as to enhance the life
of the items.
The list can be long but the above list gives you a brief idea about
the use of metal alloys.