Ferrous and Non-ferrous metals


Ferrous metals are metals consisting iron as their main constituent. These metals have been used in building construction purposes since prehistoric times. In fact iron which is the most popular metal constitutes approximately 4.60% of the crust. The three most important ferrous metals are Cast iron, Wrought iron and Steel.

Ferrous (Fe2+), in chemistry, indicates a divalent iron compound (+2 oxidation state), as opposed to ferric, which indicates a trivalent iron compound (+3 oxidation state). This usage has mostly been deprecated, with current IUPAC nomenclature having names containing the oxidation state in bracketed Roman numerals instead, such as iron(II) oxide for ferrous oxide (FeO), and iron(III) oxide for ferric oxide (Fe2O3).

Pig Iron – The crude impure iron which is extracted from iron ores is known as pig iron and forms the basic material for the manufacture of cast iron, wrought iron and steel. Pig iron is the intermediate product of smelting iron ore with a high-carbon fuel such as coke, usually with limestone as a flux. It is the molten iron from the blast furnace, which is a large and cylinder-shaped furnace charged with iron ore, coke, and limestone. Charcoal and anthracite have also been used as fuel. Pig iron has a very high carbon content, typically 3.5–4.5%, along with silica and other constituents of dross, which makes it very brittle and not useful directly as a material except for limited applications.

The traditional shape of the molds used for pig iron ingots was a branching structure formed in sand, with many individual ingots at right angles to a central channel or runner.

Such a configuration is similar in appearance to a litter of piglets being suckled by a sow, when the metal had cooled and hardened, the smaller ingots (the pigs) were simply broken from the much thinner runner (the sow), hence the name pig iron. As pig iron is intended for re-melting, the uneven size of the ingots and the inclusion of small amounts of sand caused only insignificant problems considering the ease of casting and handling them.

Properties of pig iron

  • It can be hardened but not tempered
  • It cannot be magnetized
  • It cannot be welded or riveted
  • It does not rust
  • It is difficult to bend
  • It is hard and brittle
  • Neither ductile nor malleable
  • Melts easily at a temperature of about 1200oC
  • High compressive strength but weak in tension

Types of pig iron

  • Bessemer pig iron
  • White pig iron
  • Grey pig iron
  • Mottled pig iron

Cast Iron – Cast iron is manufactured by re-melting pig iron with coke and limestone. This re-melting process is carried out in a Cupola furnace

Cast iron is iron or a ferrous alloy which has been heated until it liquefies, and is then poured into a mould to solidify. It is usually made from pig iron. The alloy constituents affect its colour when fractured: white cast iron has carbide impurities which allow cracks to pass straight through. Grey cast iron has graphite flakes which deflect a passing crack and initiate countless new cracks as the material breaks.

Carbon (C) and silicon (Si) are the main alloying elements, with the amount ranging from 2.1–4 wt% and 1–3 wt%, respectively. Iron alloys with less carbon content are known as steel. While this technically makes these base alloys ternary Fe–C–Si alloys, the principle of cast iron solidification is understood from the binary iron–carbon phase diagram. Since the compositions of most cast irons are around the eutectic point of the iron–carbon system, the melting temperatures closely correlate, usually ranging from 1,150 to 1,200 °C (2,100 to 2,190 °F), which is about 300 °C (572 °F) lower than the melting point of pure iron.

Cast iron tends to be brittle, except for malleable cast irons. With its relatively low melting point, good fluidity, cast ability, excellent machinability, resistance to deformation and wear resistance, cast irons have become an engineering material with a wide range of applications and are used in pipes, machines and automotive industry parts, such as cylinder heads (declining usage), cylinder blocks and gearbox cases (declining usage). It is resistant to destruction and weakening by oxidation (rust).

The earliest cast iron artifacts date to the 5th century BC, and were discovered by archaeologists in what is now modern Luhe County, Jiangsu in China. Cast iron was used in ancient China for warfare, agriculture, and architecture. During the 15th century, cast iron became utilized for artillery in Burgundy, France, and in England during the Reformation. The first cast iron bridge was built during the 1770s by Abraham Darby III, and is known as The Iron Bridge. Cast iron is also used in the construction of buildings

Properties of Cast iron

  • Becomes soft in salt water
  • Can be hardened by heating but cannot be tempered
  • Cannot be magnetized
  • Does not rust easily
  • It is fusible
  • It is hard and brittle
  • Not ductile
  • Melting point is at about 1250oC
  • Shrinks on cooling and has a granular and crystalline structure
  • Lacks plasticity
  • Weak in tension but strong in compression

Types of cast iron

  • Grey cast iron
  • White cast iron
  • Mottled cast iron
  • Chilled cast iron
  • Malleable cast iron
  • Toughened cast iron

Wrought Iron – Wrought iron is an iron alloy with a very low carbon (0.1 to 0.25%) content in contrast to cast iron (2.1% to 4%), and has fibrous inclusions, known as slag up to 2% by weight. It is a semi-fused mass of iron with slag inclusions which gives it a “grain” resembling wood, that is visible when it is etched or bent to the point of failure. Wrought iron is tough, malleable, ductile and easily welded. Before the development of effective methods of steelmaking and the availability of large quantities of steel, wrought iron was the most common form of malleable iron. A modest amount of wrought iron was used as a raw material for refining into steel, which was used mainly to produces words, cutlery, chisels, axes and other edged tools as well as springs and files. The demand for wrought iron reached its peak in the 1860s with the adaptation of ironclad warships and railways, but then declined as mild steel quality problems such as brittleness were solved and it became inexpensive and widely available.

Many items, before they came to be made of mild steel, were produced from wrought iron, including rivets, nails, wire, chains, rails, railway couplings, water and steam pipes, nuts, bolts, horseshoes, handrails, straps for timber roof trusses, and ornamental ironwork.

Wrought iron is no longer produced on a commercial scale. Many products described as wrought iron, such as guard rails, garden furniture and gates, are made of mild steel. They retain that description because in the past they were wrought (worked) by hand.

Properties of wrought iron

  • Becomes soft in white heat and can be forged and welded easily
  • Can be magnetized temporarily
  • Fuses with difficulty
  • Ductile, Malleable and tough
  • Moderately elastic
  • Unaffected by saline water
  • Resists corrosion
  • Melting point 1500oC
  • Strong in both tension and compression

Steel – Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon that is widely used in construction and other applications because of its hardness and tensile strength. Carbon, other elements, and inclusions within iron act as hardening agents that prevent the movement of dislocations that naturally exist in the iron atom crystal lattices. The carbon in typical steel alloys may contribute up to 2.1% of its weight. Varying the amount of alloying elements, their form in the steel either as solute elements, or as precipitated phases, retards the movement of those dislocations that make iron so ductile and weak, and thus controls qualities such as the hardness, ductility, and tensile strength of the resulting steel. Steel’s strength compared to pure iron is only possible at the expense of ductility, of which iron has an excess.

Although steel had been produced in bloomery furnaces for thousands of years, steel’s use expanded extensively after more efficient production methods were devised in the 17th century for blister steel and then crucible steel. With the invention of the Bessemer processing the mid-19th century, a new era of mass-produced steel began. This was followed by Siemens-Martin process and then Gilchrist-Thomas process that refined the quality of steel. With their introductions, mild steel replaced wrought iron.

Further refinements in the process, such as basic oxygen steelmaking (BOS), further lowered the cost of production, while increasing the quality of the metal and largely replaced earlier methods. Today, steel is one of the most common materials in the world, with more than 1.3 billion tons produced annually. It is a major component in buildings, infrastructure, tools, ships, automobiles, machines, appliances, and weapons. Modern steel is generally identified by various grades defined by assorted standards organizations.

Properties of mild steel

  • Can be permanently magnetized
  • Can be readily forged and welded
  • Easily hardened and tempered
  • Malleable and ductile
  • Has a fibrous structure
  • Not easily attacked by saline water
  • Tougher and more elastic than wrought iron
  • Relative strong in both tension and compression
  • Rusts easily and rapidly
  • Properties of hard steel
  • Easily hardened and tempered
  • Can be magnetized permanently
  • Cannot be forged and welded
  • Has a granular structure
  • Tougher and more elastic than mild steel
  • Rusts easily and rapidly

Non Ferrous

Aluminium – Aluminium is a chemical element in the boron group with symbol Al and atomic number 13. It is a silvery white, soft, ductile metal. Aluminium is the third most abundant element (after oxygen and silicon), and the most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust. It makes up about 8% by weight of the Earth’s solid surface. Aluminium metal is so chemically reactive that native specimens are rare and limited to extreme reducing environments. Instead, it is found combined in over 270 different minerals. The chief ore of aluminium is bauxite.

Aluminium is remarkable for the metal’s low density and for its ability to resist corrosion due to the phenomenon of passivation. Structural components made from aluminium and its alloys are vital to the aerospace industry and are important in other areas of transportation and structural materials. The most useful compounds of aluminium, at least on a weight basis, are the oxides and sulfates.

Despite its prevalence in the environment, no known form of life uses aluminium salts metabolically. In keeping with its pervasiveness, aluminium is well tolerated by plants and animals. Owing to their prevalence, potential beneficial (or otherwise) biological roles of aluminium compounds are of continuing interest.

Cobalt – Cobalt is a chemical element with symbol Co and atomic number 27. Like nickel, cobalt in the Earth’s crust is found only in chemically combined form, save for small deposits found in alloys of natural meteoric iron. The free element, produced by reductive smelting, is a hard, lustrous, silver-gray metal.

Cobalt-based blue pigments (cobalt blue) have been used since ancient times for jewelry and paints, and to impart a distinctive blue tint to glass, but the color was later thought by alchemists to be due to the known metal bismuth.

Cobalt is primarily used as the metal, in the preparation of magnetic, wear-resistant and high-strength alloys. Its compounds cobalt silicate and cobalt(II) aluminate (CoAl2O4, cobalt blue) give a distinctive deep blue color to glass, smalt, ceramics, inks, paints and varnishes. Cobalt occurs naturally as only one stable isotope, cobalt-59. Cobalt-60 is a commercially important radioisotope, used as a radioactive tracer and for the production of high intensity gamma rays.

Cobalt is a ferromagnetic metal with a specific gravity of 8.9. The Curie temperature is 1115 °C and the magnetic moment is 1.6–1.7 Bohr magnetons per atom. Cobalt has a permeability of  two thirds that of iron. Metallic cobalt occurs as two crystallographic structures: hcp and fcc. The ideal transition temperature between the hcp and fcc structures is 450 °C, but in practice, the energy difference is so small that random intergrowth of the two is common.

Cobalt is a weakly reducing metal that is protected from oxidation by a passivating oxide film. It is attacked by halogens and sulfur. Heating in oxygen produces Co3O4 which loses oxygen at 900 °C to give the monoxide CoO. The metal reacts with Fluorine gas (F2) at 520 K to giveCoF3; with chlorine (Cl2), bromine (Br2) and iodine (I2), the corresponding binary halides are formed. It does not react with hydrogen gas (H2) or nitrogen gas (N2) even when heated, but it does react with boron, carbon, phosphorus, arsenic and sulphur. At ordinary temperatures, it reacts slowly with mineral acids, and very slowly with moist, but not with dry.

Copper – Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu (from Latin: cuprum) and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; a freshly exposed surface has a reddish-orange color. It is used as a conductor of heat and electricity, a building material, and a constituent of various metal alloys. Copper is essential to all living organisms as a trace dietary mineral because it is a key constituent of the respiratory enzyme complexcytochrome oxidase. In molluscs and crustacea copper is a constituent of the blood pigment hemocyanin, which is replaced by the iron-complexed hemoglobin in fish and other vertebrates.

The main areas where copper is found in humans are liver, muscle and bone. Copper compounds are used as bacteriostatic substances, fungicides, and wood preservatives.

Lead – Lead is a chemical element in the carbon group with symbol Pb (from Latin: plumbum) and atomic number 82. Lead is a soft and malleable metal, which is regarded as a heavy metal and any other metal. Metallic lead has a bluish-white color after being freshly cut, but it soon tarnishes to a dull grayish color when exposed to air. Lead has a shiny chrome-silver luster when it is melted into a liquid. It is also the heaviest non-radioactive element. Lead is used in building construction, lead-acid batteries, bullets and shot, weights, as part of solders, pewters, fusible alloys, and as a radiation shield. Lead has the highest atomic number of all of the stable elements, although the next higher element, bismuth, has a half-life that is so long (over one billion times the estimated age of the universe) that it can be considered stable. Its four stable isotopes have 82 protons, a magic number in the nuclear shell model of atomic nuclei. The isotope 208 Pb is double magic. If ingested, lead is poisonous to animals, including humans. It damages the nervous system and causes brain disorders. Excessive lead also causes blood disorders in mammals. Like the element mercury, another heavy metal, lead is a neurotoxin that accumulates both in soft tissues and the bones. Lead poisoning has been documented from ancient Rome, ancient Greece, and ancient China.

Magnesium – Magnesium is a chemical element with the symbol Mg and atomic number 12. Its common oxidation number is +2. It is an alkaline earth metal and the eighth-most-abundant element in the Earth’s crust and ninth in the known universe as a whole Magnesium is the fourth-most-common element in the Earth as a whole (behind iron, oxygen and silicon), making up 13% of the planet’s mass and a large fraction of the planet’s mantle.

The relative abundance of magnesium is related to the fact that it easily builds up in supernova stars from a sequential addition of three helium nuclei to carbon (which in turn is made from three helium nuclei). Due to magnesium ion’s high solubility in water, it is the third-most-abundant element dissolved in seawater. Magnesium is produced in stars larger than 3 solar masses by fusing helium and neon in the alpha process at temperatures above 600 mega-kelvins.

The free element (metal) is not found naturally on Earth, as it is highly reactive (though once produced, it is coated in a thin layer of oxide, which partly masks this reactivity). The free metal burns with a characteristic brilliant-white light, making it a useful ingredient in flares. The metal is now obtained mainly by electrolysis of magnesium salts obtained from brine. In commerce, the chief use for the metal is as an alloying agent to make aluminium-magnesium alloys, sometimes called magnalium or magnelium. Since magnesium is less dense than aluminium, these alloys are prized for their relative lightness and strength.

In human biology, magnesium is the eleventh-most-abundant element by mass in the human body. Its ions are essential to all living cells, where they play a major role in manipulating important biological polyphosphate compounds like ATP, DNA, and RNA. Hundreds of enzymes, thus, require magnesium ions to function. Magnesium compounds are used medicinally as common laxatives, antacids(e.g., milk of magnesia), and in a number of situations where stabilization of abnormal nerve excitation and blood vessel spasm is required (e.g., to treat eclampsia). Magnesium ions are sour to the taste, and in low concentrations they help to impart a natural tartness to fresh mineral waters.

In vegetation, magnesium is the metallic ion at the center of chlorophyll, and is, thus, a common additive to fertilizers.

Nickel – Nickel is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Ni and atomic number 28. It is a silvery-white lustrous metal with a slight golden tinge. Nickel belongs to the transition metals and is hard and ductile. Pure nickel shows a significant chemical activity that can be observed when nickel is powdered to maximize the exposed surface area on which reactions can occur, but larger pieces of the metal are slow to react with air at ambient conditions due to the formation of a protective oxide surface. Even then, nickel is reactive enough with oxygen that native nickel is rarely found on Earth’s surface, being mostly confined to the interiors of larger nickel–iron meteorites that were protected from oxidation during their time in space. On Earth, such native nickel is always found in combination with iron, a reflection of those elements’ origin as major end products of supernova nucleo-synthesis. An iron–nickel mixture is thought to compose Earth’s inner core.

The use of nickel (as a natural meteoric nickel–iron alloy) has been traced as far back as 3500 BC. Nickel was first isolated and classified as a chemical element in 1751 by Axel Fredrik Cronstedt, who initially mistook its ore for a copper mineral. The element’s name comes from a mischievous sprite of German miner mythology, Nickel (similar to Old Nick), that personified the fact that copper-nickel ores resisted refinement into copper. An economically important source of nickel is the iron ore limonite, which often contains 1-2% nickel. Nickel’s other important ore minerals include garnierite, and pentlandite. Major production sites include the Sudbury region in Canada (which is thought to be of meteoric origin), New Caledonia in the Pacific, and Norilsk in Russia.

Because of nickel’s slow rate of oxidation at room temperature, it is considered corrosion-resistant. Historically, this has led to its use for plating metals such as iron and brass, coating chemistry equipment, and manufacturing certain alloys that retain a high silvery polish, such as German silver. About 6% of world nickel production is still used for corrosion-resistant pure-nickel plating.

Nickel was once a common component of coins, but has largely been replaced by cheaper iron for this purpose, especially since the metal is a skin allergen for some people. It was reintroduced into UK coins in 2012 despite objections from dermatologists.

Nickel is one of four elements that are ferromagnetic around room temperature. Alnico permanent magnets based partly on nickel are of intermediate strength between iron-based permanent magnets and rare-earth magnets. The metal is chiefly valuable in the modern world for the alloys it forms; about 60% of world production is used in nickel-steels (particularly stainless steel). Other common alloys, as well as some new super alloys, make up most of the remainder of world nickel use, with chemical uses for nickel compounds consuming less than 3% of production. As a compound, nickel has a number of niche chemical manufacturing uses, such as a catalyst for hydrogenation. Enzymes of some microorganisms and plants contain nickel as an active site, which makes the metal an essential nutrient for them.

Tin – Tin is a chemical element with symbol Sn (for Latin: stannum) and atomic number 50. It is a main group metal in group 14 of the periodic table. Tin shows chemical similarity to both neighboring group-14 elements, germanium and lead, and has two possible oxidation states, +2 and the slightly more stable +4. Tin is the 49th most abundant element and has, with 10 stable isotopes, the largest number of stable isotopes in the periodic table. Tin is obtained chiefly from the mineral cassiterite, where it occurs as tin dioxide, SnO2.

This silvery, malleable other metal is not easily oxidized in air and is used to coat other metals to prevent corrosion. The first alloy, used in large scale since 3000 BC, was bronze, an alloy of tin and copper. After 600 BC pure metallic tin was produced. Pewter, which is an alloy of 85–90% tin with the remainder commonly consisting of copper, antimony and lead, was used for flatware from the Bronze Age until the 20th century.

In modern times tin is used in many alloys, most notably tin/lead soft solders, typically containing 60% or more of tin. Another large application for tin is corrosion-resistant tin plating of steel. Because of its low toxicity, tin-plated metal is also used for food packaging, giving the name to tin cans, which are made mostly of steel.

Zinc – Zinc, in commerce also spelter, is a metallic chemical element; it has the symbol Zn and atomic number 30. It is the first element of group 12 of the periodic table. In some respects zinc is chemically similar to magnesium: its ion is of similar size and its only common oxidation state is +2. Zinc is the 24th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust and has five stable isotopes. The most common zinc ore is sphalerite (zinc blende), a zinc sulfide mineral. The largest mineable amounts are found in Australia, Asia, and the United States. Zinc production includes froth flotation of the ore, roasting, and final extraction using electricity (electro-winning).

Zinc is an essential mineral of “exceptional biologic and public health importance”. Zinc deficiency affects about two billion people in the developing world and is associated with many diseases. In children it causes growth retardation, delayed sexual maturation, infection susceptibility, and diarrhea, contributing to the death of about 800,000 children worldwide per year. Enzymes with a zinc atom in the reactive center are widespread in biochemistry, such as alcohol dehydrogenase in humans. Consumption of excess zinc can cause ataxia, lethargy and copper deficiency.

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