Iron Ore      Compiled by: vic   12-2007    (Knowledge only....  Please give Credit to original Writers.  Inter-office study)

Iron OreMagnetite, HematiteGoethiteLimoniteSiderite, oligisto, Especularita Iron, Steel

Iron Ore

Iron Ore   (from wikipedia)Hematite: the main iron ore in Brazilian mines

Iron ores are rocks and minerals from which metallic iron can be economically extracted.
The ores are usually rich in iron oxides and vary in colour from
dark grey, bright yellow, deep purple, to rusty red.
The iron itself is usually found in the form of

Magnetite (Fe3O4),   Hematite   (Fe2O3),    GoethiteLimonite or Siderite.

Hematite is also known as "natural ore". The name refers to the early years of mining, when certain hematite ores contained 66% iron and could be fed directly into iron making blast furnaces. Iron ore is the raw material used to make pig iron, which is one of the main raw materials to make steel. 98% of the mined iron ore is used to make steel.[1]



Estimated iron ore production
in million tons for 2006

according to U.S. Geological Survey[2]

Country Production
Australia 570
China 520
Brazil 300
India 150
Russia 105
Ukraine 73
United States 54
South Africa 40
Canada 33
Sweden 24
Venezuela 20
Kazakhstan 15
Iran 20
Mauritania 11
Other countries 43
Total world 1690

World consumption of iron ore grows 10% per annum on average with the main consumers being China, Japan, Korea, the United States and the European Union.

Iron ore mining methods vary by the type of ore being mined. There are four main types of iron ore deposits worked currently, depending on the mineralogy and geology of the ore deposits.
These are
massive Hematite and
pisolitic ironstone deposits

Magnetite banded iron deposits

Banded iron formations (BIF) are fine grained metamorphosed sedimentary rocks composed predominantly of magnetite and silica (as quartz).
Banded Iron formations are locally known as taconite within North America.

Mining of BIF formations involves coarse crushing and screening, followed by rough crushing and fine grinding to comminute the ore to the point where the crystallised magnetite and quartz are fine enough that the quartz is left behind when the resultant powder is passed under a magnetic separator.

The key economic parameters for magnetite ore being economic are the crystallinity of the magnetite, the grade of the iron within the BIF host rock, and the contaminant elements which exist within the magnetite concentrate. The size and strip ratio of most magnetite resources is irrelevant as BIF formations can be hundreds of metres thick, with hundreds of kilometres of strike, and can easily come to more than 2,500 million tonnes of contained ore.

The typical grade of iron at which a magnetite-bearing banded iron formation becomes economic is roughly 25% Fe, which can generally yield a 33% to 40% recovery of magnetite by weight, to produce a concentrate grading in excess of 64% Fe by weight. The typical magnetite iron ore concentrate has
less than 0.1% phosphorus, 3-7% silica and less than 3% aluminium.

The grain size of the magnetite and its degree of comingling with the silica groundmass determine the grind size to which the rock must be comminuted to enable efficient magnetic separation to provide a high purity magnetite concentrate. This determines the energy inputs required to run a milling operation. Generally most magnetite BIF deposits must be ground to between 32 and 45 micrometres in order to provide a low-silica magnetite concentrate. Magnetite concentrate grades are generally in excess of 63% Fe by weight and usually are low phosphorus, low aluminium, low titanium and low silica and demand a premium price.

Currently magnetite iron ore is mined in Minnesota and Michigan in the U.S., and Eastern Canada mine taconite. Magnetite bearing BIF is currently mined extensively in Brazil, which exports significant quantities to Asia, and there is a nascent and large magnetite iron ore industry in Australia.

Magmatic magnetite ore deposits

Occasionally granite and ultrapotassic igneous rocks segregate magnetite crystals and form masses of magnetite suitable for economic concentration. A few iron ore deposits, notably in Chile, are formed from volcanic flows containing significant accumulations of magnetite phenocrysts. Chilean magnetite iron ore deposits within the Atacama Desert have also formed alluvial accumulations of magnetite in streams leading from these volcanic formations.

Some magnetite skarn and hydrothermal deposits have been worked in the past as high-grade iron ore deposits requiring little beneficiation.
There are several granite-associated deposits of this nature in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Other sources of magnetite iron ore include metamorphic accumulations of massive magnetite ore such as at Savage River, Tasmania,
formed by shearing of ophiolite ultramafics.

Another, minor, source of iron ores are magmatic accumulations in ultramafic to mafic layered intrusions which contain a typically titanium-bearing magnetite crystal rock (magnetitite) often with vanadium. These ores form a niche market, with specialty smelters used to recover the iron, titanium and vanadium. These ores are beneficiated essentially similar to banded iron formation ores, but usually are more easily upgraded via crushing and screening. The typical titanomagnetite concentrate grades 57% Fe, 12% Ti and 0.5% V2O5.

Hematite ore

Hematite iron ore deposits are currently exploited on all continents, with the largest intensity of exploitation in South America, Australia and Asia. Most large hematite iron ore deposits are sourced from metasomatically altered banded iron formations and rarely igneous accumulations.

Hematite iron is typically rarer than magnetite bearing BIF or other rocks which form its main source or protolith rock, but it is considerably cheaper and easier to beneficiate the hematite ores and requires considerably less energy to crush and grind. Hematite ores however can contain significantly higher concentrations of penalty elements, typically being higher in phosphorus, water content (especially pisolite sedimentary accumulations) and aluminium (clays within pisolites).

In Australia iron ore is won from three main sources: pisolite "channel iron deposit" ore derived by mechanical erosion of primary banded-iron formations and accumulated in alluvial channels such as at Pannawonica, Western Australia; and the dominant metasomatically-altered banded iron formation related ores such as at Newman, the Chichester Range, the Hamersley Range and Koolyanobbing, Western Australia. Other types of ore are coming to the fore recently, such as oxidised ferruginous hardcaps, for instance laterite iron ore deposits near Lake Argyle in Western Australia.

The total recoverable reserves of iron ore in India are about 9,602 million tones of hematite and 3,408 million tones of magnetite. Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Bihar, Orissa, Goa, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu are the principal Indian producers of iron ore.

Consumption and economics

Iron is the world's most commonly used metal. It is used primarily in structural engineering applications and in maritime purposes, automobiles, and general industrial applications (machinery).

Iron-rich rocks are common worldwide, but ore-grade commercial mining operations are dominated by the countries listed in the table aside. The major constraint to economics for iron ore deposits is not necessarily the grade or size of the deposits, because it is not particularly hard to geologically prove enough tonnage of the rocks exist. The main constraint is the position of the iron ore relative to market, the cost of rail infrastructure to get it to market and the energy cost required to do so.

World production averages one billion metric tons of raw ore annually. The world's largest producer of iron ore is the Brazilian mining corporation CVRD, followed by Australian company BHP Billiton and the Anglo-Australian Rio Tinto Group. A further Australian supplier, Fortescue Metals Group Ltd, is currently entering the development stage and may eventually bring Australia's production to second in the world.

This heap of iron ore pellets will be used in steel production.China is currently the largest consumer of iron ore, which translates to be the world's largest steel producing country.
China is followed by Japan and Korea, which consume a significant amount of raw iron ore and metallurgical coal.

In 2006, China produced 588 million tons of iron ore, with an annual growth of 38%.

This heap of iron ore pellets will be used in steel production


Pure iron is virtually unknown on the surface of the Earth except as Fe-Ni alloys from meteorites and very rare forms of deep mantle xenoliths. Therefore, all sources of iron used by human industry exploit iron oxide minerals, the primary form which is used in industry being hematite.

However, in some situations, more inferior iron ore sources have been used by industrialized societies when access to high-grade hematite ore was not available. This has included utilisation of taconite in the United States, particularly during World War II, and goethite or bog ore used during the American Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. Magnetite is often used because it is magnetic and hence easily liberated from the gangue minerals.

Inferior sources of iron ore generally required beneficiation. Due to the high density of hematite relative to silicates, beneficiation usually involves a combination of crushing and milling as well as heavy liquid separation. This is achieved by passing the finely crushed ore over a bath of solution containing bentonite or other agent which increases the density of the solution. When the density of the solution is properly calibrated, the hematite will sink and the silicate mineral fragments will float and can be removed.

Taconite mining involves moving tremendous amounts of ore and waste. The waste comes in two forms, bedrock in the mine (mullock) that isn't ore, and unwanted minerals which are an intrinsic part of the ore rock itself (gangue). The mullock is mined and piled in waste dumps, and the gangue is separated during the beneficiation process and is removed as tailings. Taconite tailings are mostly the mineral quartz, which is chemically inert. This material is stored in large, regulated water settling ponds.

Magnetite is beneficiated by crushing and then separating the magnetite from the gangue minerals with a magnet. This is usually so efficient that lower grade ore can be treated when it is magnetite than a comparable grade of hematite ore, especially when the magnetite is quite coarse.

To convert an oxide of iron to metallic iron it must be smelted or sent through a direct reduction process.


Iron ore consists of oxygen and iron atoms bonded together into molecules. To create pure iron, the ore must be smelted to remove the oxygen. Oxygen-iron bonds are strong, and to remove the iron from the oxygen, a stronger elemental bond must be presented to attach to the oxygen. Carbon is used because the strength of a carbon-oxygen bond is greater than that of the iron-oxygen bond, at high temperatures. Thus, the iron ore must be powdered and mixed with coke, to be burnt in the smelting process.

However, this is not entirely as simple as that; carbon monoxide is the primary ingredient of chemically stripping oxygen from iron. Thus, the iron and carbon smelting must be kept at an oxygen deficient reduced state to promote burning of carbon to produce CO not CO2.

Air blast and charcoal (coke): 2C + O2 \to 2CO.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is the principal reduction agent.
Stage One: 3Fe2 O3 + CO \to 2Fe3 O4 + CO2
Stage Two: Fe3 O4 + CO \to 3Fe O + CO2
Stage Three: FeO + CO \to Fe + CO2
Limestone fluxing chemistry: CaCO3 \to CaO + CO2

Trace Elements:Effects and Remedies

The inclusion of even small amounts of some elements can have profound effects on the behavioral characteristics of a batch of iron or the operation of a smelter. These effects can be both good and bad. Some catastrophically bad. Some chemicals were deliberately added. The addition of a flux made a blast furnace more efficient. Others were added because they made the iron more fluid, harder, or some other desirable quality. The choice of ore, fuel, and flux determined how the slag behaved and the operational characteristics of the iron produced. Ideally iron ore contains only iron and oxygen. In nature this is rarely the case. Typically, iron ore contains a host of elements which are often unwanted in modern steel.


Silica (SiO2) is almost always present in iron ore. Most of it is slagged off during the smelting process. But, at temperatures above 1300°C some will be reduced and form an alloy with the iron. The hotter the furnace, the more silicon will be present in the iron. It is not uncommon to find up to 1.5% Si in European cast iron from the 16th to 18th centuries. The major effect of silicon is to promote the formation of gray iron. Gray iron is less brittle and easier to finish than white iron. It was preferred for casting purposes for this reason. Turner (1900:192-7) reported that silicon also reduced shrinkage and the formation of blowholes, lowering the number of bad castings.


Phosphorus (P) has four major effects on iron: increased hardness and strength, lower solidus temperature, increased fluidity, and cold shortness. Depending on the use intended for the iron, these effects are either good or bad. Bog ore often has a high Phosphorus content (Gordon 1996:57).

The strength and hardness of iron increases with the concentration of phosphorus. 0.05% phosphorus in wrought iron makes it as hard as medium carbon steel. High phosphorus iron can also be hardened by cold hammering. The hardening effect is true for any concentration of phosphorus. The more phosphorus, the harder the iron becomes and the more it can be hardened by hammering. Modern steel makers can increase hardness by as much as 30%, without sacrificing shock resistance by maintaining phosphorus levels between 0.07 and 0.12%. It also increases the depth of hardening due to quenching, but at the same time also decreases the solubility of carbon in iron at high temperatures. This would decrease its usefulness in making blister steel (cementation), where the speed and amount of carbon absorption is the overriding consideration.

The addition of phosphorus has a down side. At concentrations higher than 0.2% iron becomes increasingly cold short, or brittle at low temperatures. Cold short is especially important for bar iron. Although, bar iron is usually worked hot, its uses often require it to be tough, bendable, and resistant to shock at room temperature. A nail that shattered when hit with a hammer or a carriage wheel that broke when it hit a rock would not sell well. High enough concentrations of phosphorus render any iron unuseable (Rostoker and Bronson 1990:22). The effects of cold shortness are magnified by temperature. Thus, a piece of iron that is perfectly serviceable in summer, might become extremely brittle in winter. There is some evidence that during the Middle Ages the very wealthy may have had a high phosphorus sword for summer and a low phosphorus sword for winter (Rostoker and Bronson 1990:22).

Careful control of phosphorus can be of great benefit in casting operations. Phosphorus depresses the liquidus temperature, allowing the iron to remain molten for longer and increases fluidity. The addition of 1% can double the distance molten iron will flow (Rostoker and Bronson 1990:22). The maximum effect, about 500°C, is achieved at a concentration of 10.2% (Rostocker and Bronson 1990:194). For foundry work Turner felt the ideal iron had 0.2-0.55% phosphorus. The resulting iron filled molds with fewer voids and also shrank less. In the 19th century some producers of decorative cast iron used iron with up to 5% phosphorus. The extreme fluidity allowed them to make very complex and delicate castings. But, they could not be weight bearing, as they had no strength (Turner 1900:202-4).

There are two remedies for high phosphorus iron. The oldest, and easiest, was avoidance. If the iron your ore produced was cold short, you found a new source of ore. The second method involves oxidizing the phosphorus during the fining process by adding iron oxide. The technique is usually associated with puddling in the 19th century, and may not have been understood earlier. For instance Isaac Zane, the owner of Marlboro Iron Works did not appear to know about it in 1772. Given Zane's reputation for keeping abreast of the latest developments, the technique was probably unknown to the ironmasters of Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Phosphorus is a deleterious contaminant because it makes steel brittle, even at concentrations of as little as 0.5%. Phosphorus cannot be easily removed by fluxing or smelting, and so iron ores must generally be low in phosphorus to begin with. The iron pillar of India which does not rust is protected by a phosphoric composition. Phosphoric acid is used at a rust converter because phosphoric iron is less susceptible to oxidation.


Small amounts of aluminium (Al) is present in many ores (often as clay) and some limestone. The former can be removed by washing the ore prior to smelting. Until the introduction of brick lined furnaces the amounts are small enough that they do not have an effect on either the iron or slag. However, when brick is used for hearths and the interior of blast furnaces, the amount of aluminium increases dramatically. This is due to the erosion of the furnace lining by the liquid slag,

Aluminium is very hard to reduce. As a result aluminium contamination of the iron is not a problem. However, it does increase the viscosity of the slag (Kato and Minowa 1969:37 and Rosenqvist 1983:311). This will have a number of adverse effects on furnace operation. The thicker slag will slow the descent of the charge, prolonging the process. High aluminium will also make it more difficult to tap off the liquid slag. At the extreme this could lead to a frozen furnace.

There are a number of solutions to a high aluminium slag. the first is avoidance, don't use ore or a lime source with a high aluminium content. Increasing the ratio of lime flux will decrease the viscosity (Rosenqvist 1983:311).


Sulfur (S) is a frequent contaminant in coal and coke. It was the presence of sulfur that prevented the use of coal in blast furnaces until 1709. Iron sulfide (pyrite, FeS2), is a common iron ore. It is also present in small quantities in many ores. Sulfur dissolves readily in both liquid and solid iron at the temperatures present in iron smelting. The effects of even small amounts of sulfur are immediate and serious. They were one of the first worked out by iron makers. Sulfur causes iron to be red or hot short (Gordon 1996:7). In modern operations, sulfur is unwanted because it produces undesirable sulfur dioxide gases in the flue emissions from a smelter and interferes with the smelting process.

Hot short iron is brittle when hot. This was a serious problem as most iron used during the 17th and 18th century was bar or wrought iron. Wrought iron is shaped by repeated blows with a hammer while hot. A piece of hot short iron will crack if worked with a hammer. When a piece of hot iron or steel cracks the exposed surface immediately oxidizes. This layer of oxide prevents the mending of the crack by welding. Large cracks cause the iron or steel to break up. Smaller cracks can cause the object to fail during use. The degree of hot shortness is in direct proportion to the amount of sulfur present. Today iron with over 0.03% sulfur is avoided.

Hot short iron can be worked, but it has to be worked at low temperatures. Working at lower temperatures requires more physical effort from the smith or forgeman. the metal must be struck more often and harder to achieve the same result. A mildly sulfur contaminated bar could be worked, but it required a great deal more time and effort.

In cast iron sulfur promotes the formation of white iron. As little as 0.5% can counteract the effects of slow cooling and a high silicon content (Rostoker and Bronson 1990:21). White cast iron is more brittle, but also harder. It was generally avoided, because it was difficult to work. Except in China where high sulfur cast iron, some as high as 0.57%, made with coal and coke, was used to make bells and chimes (Rostoker, Bronson, and Dvorak 1984:760).According to Turner (1900:200), good foundry iron should have less than 0.15% sulfur. In the rest of the world a high sulfur cast iron could be used for making castings, but would make poor wrought iron.

There are a number of remedies for sulfur contamination. The first, and the one most used in historic and prehistoric operations, was avoidance. Coal was not used in Europe (it was used in China) as a fuel for smelting because it contained sulfur and caused hot short iron. If an ore resulted in hot short metal, ironmasters found another ore.

Sulfur can be removed from ores by roasting and washing. Roasting oxidizes sulfur to form sulfur dioxide which either escapes into the atmosphere or can be washed out. In warm climates it was possible to leave pyritic ore out in the rain. The combined action of rain, bacteria, and heat oxidize the sulfides to sulfates, which are water soluble (Turner 1900:77). Natural weathering was also used in Sweden. The same process, at geological speed, results in the gossan limonite ores.

The importance attached to low sulfur iron is demonstrated by the consistently higher prices paid for the iron of Sweden, Russia, and Spain from the 16th to 18th centuries. Today sulfur is no longer a problem. The modern remedy is the addition of manganese. But, the operator must know how much sulfur is in the iron because at least five times as much manganese must be added to neutralize it. Some historic irons display manganese levels, but most are well below the level needed to neutralize sulfur (Rostoker and Bronson 1990:21).


  1. ^ IRON ORE - Hematite, Magnetite & Taconite. Mineral Information Institute. Retrieved on 2006-04-07.
  2. ^ U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved on 2006-03-07.
  • Gordon, Robert B. (1996). American Iron 1607-1900.The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Rostoker, William and Bennet Bronson (1990). Pre-Industrial Iron: Its Technology and Ethnology. Archeomaterials Monograph No. 1.
  • Turner, Thomas (1900). The Metallurgy of Iron. 2nd Edition. Charles Griffin & Company, Limited.
  • Kato, Makoto and Susumu Minowa (1969). Viscosity Measurement of Molten Slag- Properties of Slag at Elevated Temperature (Part 1). Transactions of the Iron and Steel Institute of Japan Vol. 9:31-38. Nihon Tekko Kyokai, Tokyo.
  • Rosenqvist, Terkel (1983). Principles of Extractive Metallurgy. McGraw-Hill Book Company.
  • Rostoker, William, Bennet Bronson, and James Dvorak (1984). The Cast-Iron Bells of China. Technology and Culture 25(4):750-67. The Society for the History of Technology.

External links

Hematite, Magnetite & Taconite

Iron Ore
: About 98% of iron ore is used to make steel - one of the greatest inventions and most useful materials ever created.

Major producers of iron ore include Australia, Brazil, China, Russia, and India.




Pyrite: used in the manufacture of sulfuric acid and sulfur dioxide;
pellets of pressed pyrite dust have been used to recover iron, gold, copper, cobalt, nickel, etc.; used to make inexpensive jewelry. 



Iron (Fe) is a metallic element and composes about 5% of the Earth’s crust. When pure it is a dark, silvery-gray metal. It is a very reactive element and oxidizes (rusts) very easily.
The reds, oranges and yellows seen in some soils and on rocks are probably iron oxides. The inner core of the Earth is believed to be a solid iron-nickel alloy. Iron-nickel meteorites are believed to represent the earliest material formed at the beginning of the universe. Studies show that there is considerable iron in the stars and terrestrial planets: Mars, the "Red Planet," is red due to the iron oxides in its crust.

Iron is one of the three naturally magnetic elements; the others are cobalt and nickel. Iron is the most magnetic of the three.
The mineral magnetite (Fe3O4) is a naturally occurring metallic mineral that is occasionally found in sufficient quantities to be an ore of iron.

The principle ores of iron are Hematite, (70% iron) and Magnetite, (72 % iron). Taconite is a low-grade iron ore, containing up to 30% Magnetite and Hematite.

Hematite is iron oxide (Fe2O3). The amount of hematite needed in any deposit to make it profitable to mine must be in the tens of millions of tons. Hematite deposits are mostly sedimentary in origin, such as the banded iron formations (BIFs). BIFs consist of alternating layers of chert (a variety of the mineral quartz), hematite and magnetite. They are found throughout the world and are the most important iron ore in the world today. Their formation is not fully understood, though it is known that they formed by the chemical precipitation of iron from shallow seas about 1.8-1.6 billion years ago, during the Proterozoic Eon.

Taconite is a silica-rich iron ore that is considered to be a low-grade deposit. However, the iron-rich components of such deposits can be processed to produce a concentrate that is about 65% iron, which means that some of the most important iron ore deposits around the world were derived from taconite. Taconite is mined in the United States, Canada, and China.

Iron is essential to animal life and necessary for the health of plants. The human body is 0.006% iron, the majority of which is in the blood. Blood cells rich in iron carry oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body. Lack of iron also lowers a person’s resistance to infection.


The name iron is from an Old English word isaern which itself can be traced back to a Celtic word, isarnon. In time, the "s" was dropped from usage.


It is estimated that worldwide there are 800 billion tons of iron ore resources, containing more than 230 billion tons of iron. It is estimated that the United States has 110 billion tons of iron ore representing 27 billion tons of iron. Among the largest iron ore producing nations are Russia, Brazil, China, Australia, India and the USA. In the United States, great deposits are found in the Lake Superior region. Worldwide, 50 countries produce iron ore, but 96% of this ore is produced by only 15 of those countries.

Iron ore is the raw material used to make pig iron, which is one of the main raw materials to make steel. Due to the lower cost of foreign-made steel and steel products, the steel industry in the United States has had difficult economic times in recent years as more and more steel is imported. Canada provides about half of the U.S. imports, Brazil about 30%, and lesser amounts from Venezuela and Australia. 99% of steel exported from the USA was sent to Canada.


In the United States, almost all of the iron ore that is mined is used for making steel. The same is true throughout the world. Raw iron by itself is not as strong and hard as needed for construction and other purposes. So, the raw iron is alloyed with a variety of elements (such as tungsten, manganese, nickel, vanadium, chromium) to strengthen and harden it, making useful steel for construction, automobiles, and other forms of transportation such as trucks, trains and train tracks.

While the other uses for iron ore and iron are only a very small amount of the consumption, they provide excellent examples of the ingenuity and the multitude of uses that man can create from our natural resources.

Powdered iron: used in metallurgy products, magnets, high-frequency cores, auto parts, catalyst.
Radioactive iron (iron 59): in medicine, tracer element in biochemical and metallurgical research.
Iron blue: in paints, printing inks, plastics, cosmetics (eye shadow), artist colors, laundry blue, paper dyeing, fertilizer ingredient, baked enamel finishes for autos and appliances, industrial finishes.
Black iron oxide: as pigment, in polishing compounds, metallurgy, medicine, magnetic inks, in ferrites for electronics industry.

Substitutes and Alternative Sources

Though there is no substitute for iron, iron ores are not the only materials from which iron and steel products are made. Very little scrap iron is recycled, but large quantities of scrap steel are recycled. Steel's overall recycling rate of more than 67% is far higher than that of any other recycled material, capturing more than 1-1/4 times as much tonnage as all other materials combined.

Some steel is produced from the recycling of scrap iron, though the total amount is considered to be insignificant now.

If the economy of steel production and consumption changes, it may become more cost-effective to recycle iron than to produce new from raw ore.

Iron and steel face continual competition with lighter materials in the motor vehicle industry; from aluminum, concrete, and wood in construction uses; and from aluminum, glass, paper, and plastics for containers.

Magnetite   (wikipedia)


Magnetite is not to be confused with Magnesite or Magnemite.

Magnetite from the Kola Peninsula, Russia
Category Mineral
Chemical formula iron(II,III) oxide, Fe3O4
Color Black, greyish
Crystal habit Octahedral, fine granular to massive
Crystal system Isometric
Cleavage Indistinct
Fracture Uneven
Mohs Scale hardness 5.5–6.5
Luster Metallic
Refractive index Opaque
Streak Black
Specific gravity 5.17–5.18
Major varieties
Lodestone Magnetic with definite north and south poles

Magnetite is a ferrimagnetic mineral with chemical formula Fe3O4, one of several iron oxides and a member of the spinel group.
The chemical IUPAC name is iron(II,III) oxide and the common chemical name ferrous-ferric oxide. The formula for magnetite may also be written as FeO.Fe2O3, which is one part wüstite (FeO) and one part hematite (Fe2O3). This refers to the different oxidation states of the iron in one structure, not a solid solution.

The Curie temperature of magnetite is 858 K. Magnetite is the most magnetic of all the naturally occurring minerals on Earth, and these magnetic properties led to lodestone being used as an early form of magnetic compass. Magnetite typically carries the dominant magnetic signature in rocks, and so it has been a critical tool in paleomagnetism, a science important in discovering and understanding plate tectonics. The relationships between magnetite and other iron-rich oxide minerals such as ilmenite, hematite, and ulvospinel have been much studied, as the complicated reactions between these minerals and oxygen influence how and when magnetite preserves records of the Earth's magnetic field.

Magnetite has been very important in understanding the conditions under which rocks form and evolve. Magnetite reacts with oxygen to produce hematite, and the mineral pair forms a buffer that can control oxygen fugacity. Commonly igneous rocks contain grains of two solid solutions, one between magnetite and ulvospinel and the other between ilmenite and hematite. Compositions of the mineral pairs are used to calculate how oxidizing was the magma (i.e., the oxygen fugacity of the magma): a range of oxidizing conditions are found in magmas and the oxidation state helps to determine how the magmas might evolve by fractional crystallization.

Small grains of magnetite occur in almost all igneous rocks and metamorphic rocks. Magnetite also occurs in many sedimentary rocks, including banded iron formations. In many igneous rocks, magnetite-rich and ilmenite-rich grains occur that precipitated together from magma. Magnetite also is produced from peridotites and dunites by serpentinization.

Magnetite is a valuable source of iron ore. It dissolves slowly in hydrochloric acid.



 Distribution of deposits

Magnetite is sometimes found in large quantities in beach sand. Such mineral sands or iron sands or black sands are found in various places such as California and the west coast of New Zealand. The magnetite is carried to the beach via rivers from erosion and is concentrated via wave action and currents.

Huge deposits have been found in banded iron formations. These sedimentary rocks have been used to infer changes in the oxygen content of the atmosphere of the Earth.

Large deposits of Magnetite also are found in Kiruna, Sweden, the Pilbara region in Western Australia, and in the Adirondack region of New York in the United States. Deposits are also found in Norway, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, South Africa, India, Mexico, and in Oregon, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Virginia, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado in the United States. Recently, in June 2005, an exploration company, Cardero Resources, discovered a vast deposit of magnetite-bearing sand dunes in Peru. The dune field covers 250 square kilometers (100 sq mi), with the highest dune at over 2,000 meters (6,560 ft) above the desert floor. The sand contains 10% magnetite[1].

 Biological occurrences

Crystals of magnetite have been found in some bacteria (e.g., Magnetospirillum magnetotacticum) and in the brains of bees, of termites, of some birds (e.g., the pigeon), and of humans. These crystals are thought to be involved in magnetoreception, the ability to sense the polarity or the inclination of the Earth's magnetic field, and to be involved in navigation. Also, chitons have teeth made of magnetite on their radula making them unique among animals. This means they have an exceptionally abrasive tongue with which to scrape food from rocks.

The study of biomagnetism began with the discoveries of Caltech paleoecologist Heinz Lowenstam in the 1960s.

 Preparation as a ferrofluid

Magnetite can be prepared in the laboratory as a ferrofluid in the Massart method by mixing iron(II) chloride and iron(III) chloride in the presence of sodium hydroxide.

 See also


 Mineralogy related

 Biology related

  • Heinz A. Lowenstam and Stephen Weiner, On Biomineralization, Oxford University Press, USA (1989) ISBN 0-19-504977-2
  • Shih-Bin Robin Chang' and Joseph Lynn Kirschvink, Magnetofossils, the Magnetization of Sediments, and the Evolution of Magnetite Biomineralization, Ann. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 1989. 17:169-95 PDF file
  • Bio-magnetics
  • Magnetic bacteria (Italian)

 Mining related links


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Category Mineral
Chemical formula FeO
Color Greyish white to yellow or brown; colourless in thin section
Crystal habit Pyramidic, prismatic
Crystal system Cubic
Cleavage {001} perfect
Fracture Subconchoidal to rough
Mohs Scale hardness 5 - 5.5
Refractive index 1.735 to 2.32 in synthetic crystals
Pleochroism None
Specific gravity 5.88
Density 5.7 g/cm³
Solubility Soluble in dilute HCl
Other Characteristics Forms solid solution with periclase

Wüstite (FeO) is a mineral form of iron(II) oxide found with meteorites and native iron. It has a gray color with a greenish tint in reflected light. Wüstite crystallizes in the isometric - hexoctahedral crystal system in opaque to translucent metallic grains. It has a Mohs hardness of 5 to 5.5 and a specific gravity of 5.88. Wüstite is a typical example of a non-stoichiometric compound.

Wüstite was named for Fritz Wüst (1860-1938), a German metallurgist and founding director of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut für Eisenforschung. [1]

In addition to the type locality in Germany, it has been reported from Disko Island, Greenland; the Jharia coalfield, Bihar, India and as inclusions in diamonds in a number of kimberlite pipes. It also is reported from deep sea manganese nodules.

Its presence indicates a highly reducing environment.



 Wüstite Redox Buffer

Main article: Mineral redox buffer

Wüstite, in geochemistry, defines a redox buffer of oxidation within rocks at which point the rock is so reduced that Fe3+ and thus hematite is absent.

As the redox state of a rock is further reduced, magnetite is converted to wüstite. This occurs by conversion of the Fe3+ ions in magnetite to Fe2+ ions. An example reaction is presented below;

  1. FeO.Fe2O3 + C --> 3FeO + CO

magnetite + graphite/diamond --> wüstite + carbon monoxide

The formula for magnetite is more accurately written as FeO.Fe2O3 than as Fe3O4. Magnetite is one part wüstite (FeO) and one part hematite (Fe2O3), rather than a solid solution of wüstite and hematite. The magnetite is termed a redox buffer because until all Fe3+ magnetite is converted to Fe2+ the oxide mineral assemblage of iron remains wüstite-magnetite, and furthermore the redox state of the rock remains at the same level of oxygen fugacity. This is similar to buffering in the H+/OH- acid-base system of water.

Once the Fe3+ is consumed, then oxygen must be stripped from the system to further reduce it and wüstite is converted to native iron. The oxide mineral equilibrium assemblage of the rock becomes wüstite-magnetite-iron.

In nature, the only natural systems which are chemically reduced enough to even attain a wüstite-magnetite composition are rare, including carbonate-rich skarns, meteorites and perhaps the mantle where reduced carbon is present, exemplified by the presence of diamond and/or graphite.

 Effects upon silicate minerals

Main article: Normative mineralogy

The ratio of Fe2+ to Fe3+ within a rock determines, in part, the silicate mineral assemblage of the rock. Within a rock of a given chemical composition, iron enters minerals based on the bulk chemical composition and the mineral phases which are stable at that temperature and pressure. Iron may only enter minerals such as pyroxene and olivine if it is present as Fe2+; Fe3+ cannot enter the lattice of fayalite olivine and thus for every two Fe3+ ions, one Fe2+ is used and one molecule of magnetite is created.

In chemically reduced rocks, magnetite may be absent due to the propensity of iron to enter olivine, and wüstite may only be present if there is an excess of iron above what can be used by silica. Thus, wüstite may only be found in silica-undersaturated compositions which are also heavily chemically reduced, satisfying both the need to remove all Fe3+ and to maintain iron outside of silicate minerals.

In nature, carbonate rocks, potentially carbonatite, kimberlites, carbonate-bearing melilitic rocks and other rare alkaline rocks may satisfy these criteria. However, wüstite is not reported in most of these rocks in nature, potentially because the redox state necessary to drive magnetite to wüstite is so rare.

 Related minerals

Wüstite forms a solid solution with periclase (MgO), and Fe substitutes for Mg. Periclase, when hydrated, forms brucite (Mg(OH)2), a common product of serpentinite metamorphic reactions.

Oxidation of wüstite forms goethite-limonite.

Zinc, aluminium and other transition metals may substitute for Fe in wüstite.

Wüstite in dolomite skarns may be related to siderite (Fe-carbonate), wollastonite, enstatite, diopside and magnesite.

 See also


  1. ^ Schenck, Rudolf & Dingmann, Th.; 1927: Gleichgewichtsuntersuchungen über die Reduktions-, Oxydations- und Kohlungsvorgänge beim Eisen III, in: Zeitschrift für anorganische und allgemeine Chemie 166, p. 113-154, here p. 141.
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Category Oxide mineral
Chemical formula iron(III) oxide, Fe2O3, α-Fe2O3
Color Metallic grey to earthy red
Crystal habit Tabular to thick crystals
Crystal system Hexagonal (rhombohedral)
Cleavage None
Fracture Uneven to sub-conchoidal
Mohs Scale hardness 5.5 - 6.5
Luster Metallic to splendent
Refractive index Opaque
Pleochroism None
Streak Bright red to dark red
Specific gravity 4.9 - 5.3
References [1][2]

Hematite, also spelled hæmatite, is the mineral form of Iron(III) oxide (Fe2O3), one of several iron oxides. Hematite crystallizes in the rhombohedral system, and it has the same crystal structure as ilmenite and as corundum. Hematite and ilmenite form a complete solid solution at temperatures above 950°C.

Hematite (kidney ore) from Michigan (unknown scale)
Hematite (kidney ore) from Michigan (unknown scale)

Hematite is a very common mineral, colored black to steel or silver-gray, brown to reddish brown, or red. It is mined as the main ore of iron. Varieties include kidney ore, martite (pseudomorphs after magnetite), iron rose and specularite (specular hematite). While the forms of hematite vary, they all have a rust-red streak. Hematite is harder than pure iron, but much more brittle.

Huge deposits of hematite are found in banded iron formations. Grey hematite is typically found in places where there has been standing water or mineral hot springs, such as those in Yellowstone. The mineral can precipitate out of water and collect in layers at the bottom of a lake, spring, or other standing water. Hematite can also occur without water, however, usually as the result of volcanic activity.

Clay-sized hematite crystals can also occur as a secondary mineral formed by weathering processes in soil, and along with other iron oxides or oxyhydroxides such as goethite, is responsible for the red color of many tropical, ancient, or otherwise highly weathered soils.

The name hematite is derived from the Greek word for blood (haima) because hematite can be red, as in rouge, a powdered form of hematite. The color of hematite lends it well in use as a pigment.

Rainbow Hematite from Brazil (unknown scale)
Rainbow Hematite from Brazil (unknown scale)

Good specimens of hematite come from England, Mexico, Brazil, Australia and the Lake Superior region of the United States and Canada.



Hematite is an antiferromagnetic material below the Morin transition at 260 K, and a canted antiferromagnet or weakly ferromagnetic [1] above the Morin transition and below its Néel temperature at 948K, above which it is paramagnetic.

Hematite specimen showing well developed botryoidal structure for which this mineral is well-known. (Unknown scale)
Hematite specimen showing well developed botryoidal structure for which this mineral is well-known. (Unknown scale)

The magnetic structure of a-hematite was the subject of considerable discussion and debate in the 1950s because it appeared to be ferromagnetic with a Curie temperature of around 1000 K, but with an extremely tiny moment (0.002mB). Adding to the surprise was a transition with a decrease in temperature at around 260 K to a phase with no net magnetic moment.[citation needed]

Dzialoshinksi and later Moriya showed that the system is essentially antiferromagnetic but that the low symmetry of the cation sites allows spin–orbit coupling to cause canting of the moments when they are in the plane perpendicular to the c axis. The disappearance of the moment with a decrease in temperature at 260 K is caused by a change in the anisotropy which causes the moments to align along the c axis. In this configuration, spin canting does not reduce the energy.[citation needed]

Hematite is part of a complex solid solution oxyhydroxide system having various degrees of water, hydroxyl group, and vacancy substitutions that affect the mineral's magnetic and crystal chemical properties.[3] Two other end-members are referred to as protohematite and hydrohematite.

 Hematite on Mars

Image mosaic from the Mars Exploration Rover Microscopic Imager shows Hematite spherules partly embedded in rock at the Opportunity landing site. (Scale: image is approximately 5 cm (2 inches) across)
Image mosaic from the Mars Exploration Rover Microscopic Imager shows Hematite spherules partly embedded in rock at the Opportunity landing site. (Scale: image is approximately 5 cm (2 inches) across)

The spectral signature of hematite was seen on the planet Mars by the infrared spectrometer on the NASA Mars Global Surveyor ("MGS") and 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft in orbit around Mars [4]. The mineral was seen in abundance at two sites[5]. on the planet, the Terra Meridiani site, near the Martian equator at 0° longitude, and the second site Aram Chaos near the Valles Marineris [6]. Several other sites also showed hematite, e.g., Aureum Chaos [7]. Because terrestrial hematite is typically a mineral formed in aqueous environments, or by aqueous alteration, this detection was scientifically interesting enough that the second of the two Mars Exploration Rovers was targeted to a site in the Terrra Meridiani region designated Meridiani Planum. In-situ investigations by the Opportunity rover showed a significant amount of hematite, much of it in the form of small spherules that were informally tagged by the science team "blueberries" (a term which is somewhat confusing, since in spectrally-correct color images they are, in fact, silver-grey in color). Analysis indicates that these spherules are apparently concretions formed from a water solution.


Hematite's popularity in jewelry was at its highest in Europe during the Victorian era, while in the last 50 years it has been popular in North America, especially in the western United States where it is found in jewelry and art created by Native Americans. Care should be taken in handling hematite items due to the material's susceptibility to damage.

 See also

Hematite carving, 5 cm (2 in) long.
Hematite carving, 5 cm (2 in) long.


  1. ^ Webmineral data
  2. ^ Mindat mineral data
  3. ^ M.-Z. Dang, D.G. Rancourt, J.E. Dutrizac, G. Lamarche, and R. Provencher. Interplay of Surface Conditions, Particle Size, Stoichiometry, Cell Parameters, and Magnetism in Synthetic Hematite-like Materials. Hyperfine Interactions 117 (1998) 271-319.
  4. ^ NASA MGS TES Press Release, May 27 1998 "Mars Global Surveyor TES Instrument Identification of Hematite on Mars", available here
  5. ^ Bandfield, J.L., Global mineral distributions on Mars, J. Geophys Res., 107, 2002. See: Mars Global Data Sets: Hematite Abundance
  6. ^ Glotch, T. D., and P. R. Christensen (2005), "Geologic and mineralogic mapping of Aram Chaos: Evidence for a water-rich history," J. Geophys. Res., 110, E09006, doi:10.1029/2004JE002389 abstract here
  7. ^ T. D. Glotch, D. Rogers, and P. R. Christensen, A Newly Discovered Hematite-Rich Unit in Aureum Chaos: Comparison of Hematite and Associated Units With Those in Aram Chaos, Lunar and Planetary Science Conference XXXVI, 2005

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Goethite,from Minas Gerais, Brazil
Category Mineral
Chemical formula α-FeO(OH)
Color Yellowish to reddish to dark brown
Crystal system Orthorhombic 2/m2/m2/m
Cleavage Perfect 010
Fracture uneven to splintery
Mohs Scale hardness 5 - 5.5
Luster adamantine to dull
Refractive index Opaque to sub-translucent
Streak brown, brownish yellow to orange yellow
Specific gravity 3.3 - 4.3
Fusibility Fusible at 5 - 5.5
Other Characteristics Becomes magnetic in reducing flame

Goethite, named after the German polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, is an iron bearing oxide mineral found in soil and other low temperature environments. Goethite has been well known since prehistoric times for its use as a pigment. Evidence has been found of its use in paint pigment samples taken from the caves of Lascaux in France. It was first described in 1806 for occurrences in the Mesabi iron ore district of Minnesota.

It is an iron oxyhydroxide. Goethite's hardness ranges from 5.0 to 5.5 on the Mohs Scale, and its specific gravity varies from 3.3 to 4.3. The mineral forms prismatic needle-like crystals, but is more typically massive. Its main modern use is as an iron ore, being referred to as brown iron ore. It does have some use as a clay earth pigment.

Goethite often forms through the weathering of other iron-rich minerals, and thus is a common component of soils. It may also be precipitated by groundwater or in other sedimentary conditions, or form as a primary mineral in hydrothermal deposits. Goethite is found all over the planet, usually in the form of concretions, stalactitic formations, oolites (a form consisting of tiny round grains cemented together), reniform (kidney shapes) or botryoidal (globular, like bunches of grapes) accumulations. It is frequently encountered in the swampy areas at the head of spring waters, on cave floors, and on the bottom of lakes and small creeks. The boxworks or gossan resulting from the oxidation of sulfide ore deposites is formed of goethite along with other iron oxides and quartz. Iron rich lateritic soils developed over serpentinite rocks in tropical climates are mined for their iron content as well as other metals.

Recently, nanoparticulate authigenic goethite was shown to be the most common diagenetic iron oxyhydroxide in both marine and lake sediments.[1]

Significant deposits of goethite are found in England, Cuba, and Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Colorado, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, and Tennessee in the United States.

Deposits significant in location, if not in abundance, have been found in Gusev by NASA's Spirit rover, providing strong evidence for the presence of liquid water on the planet Mars in an earlier stage of its development.

Feroxyhyte and Lepidocrocite are both polymorphs of the iron oxyhydroxide FeO(OH). Although they have the same chemical formula as goethite they each have different crystalline structures making them distinct minerals.


  1. ^ C. van der Zee, D. Roberts, D.G. Rancourt, C.P. Slomp. Nanogoethite is the dominant reactive oxyhydroxide phase in lake and marine sediments. Geology 31 (2003) 993-996.

 See also

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Limonite is an ore consisting in a mixture of hydrated iron(III) oxide-hydroxide of varying composition. The generic formula is frequently written as FeO(OH)·nH2O, although this is not entirely accurate as limonite often contains a varying amount of oxide compared to hydroxide.

Together with hematite, it has been mined as ore for the production of iron. Limonite is heavy and yellowish-brown. It is a very common amorphous substance though can be tricky to find when mined with hematite and bog ore.

It is not a true mineral and it is composed by a mixture of similar hydrated iron oxide minerals, mostly goethite with lepidocrocite, jarosite, and others. Limonite forms mostly in or near oxidized iron and other metal ore deposits and as sedimentary beds. Limonite may occur as the cementing material in iron rich sandstones. Also known as the Lemon Rock.

It is never crystallized into macroscopic crystals, but may have a fibrous or microcrystalline structure, and commonly occurs in concretionary forms or in compact and earthy masses; sometimes mammillary, botryoidal, reniform or stalactitic. The colour presents various shades of brown and yellow, and the streak is always brownish, a character which distinguishes it from hematite with a red, or from magnetite with a black streak. It is sometimes called brown hematite or brown iron ore.

Limonite pseudomorphs after Garnet
Limonite pseudomorphs after Garnet

Limonite has been known to form pseudomorphs after other minerals such as pyrite, meaning that the chemical weathering transforms the crystal of pyrite into limonite but keeps the external shape of the pyrite crystal. It has also been formed from other iron oxides, hematite and magnetite; the carbonate siderite and iron rich silicates like some garnets.

It is named from the Greek word for meadow, in allusion to its occurrence as "bog-ore" in meadows and marshes.

The hardness is variable, but generally in the 4 - 5.5 range. The specific gravity varies from 2.9 to 4.3.

Limonite "rind" on goethite?
Limonite "rind" on goethite?

 Uses of limonite

In the past bog ore or brown iron ore were mined as a source of iron. Iron caps or gossans of siliceous iron oxide typically forms as the result of intensive oxidation of sulfide ore deposits. These gossans were used by prospectors as guides to buried ore. In addition the oxidation of sulfide deposits which contained gold mineralization often resulted in the concentration of gold in the iron oxide and quartz of the gossans.

Gold bearing limonite gossans were productively mined in the Shasta County, California mining district. Similar deposits were mined near Rio Tinto in Spain and Mount Morgan in Australia. In the Dahlonega gold belt in Lumpkin County, Georgia gold was mined from limonite rich lateritic or saprolite soil. The gold of the primary veins was concentrated into the limonites of the deeply weathered rocks. In another example the deeply weathered iron formations of Brazil served to concentrate gold with the limonite of the resulting soils.

Limonite from occurrences with consistent color is used as the yellow-brown natural earth pigment ochre.

 See also

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Siderite is also the name of a type of iron meteorite.


Siderite is a mineral composed of iron carbonate FeCO3. It takes its name from the Greek word sideros, “iron”. It is a valuable iron mineral, since it is 48% iron and contains no sulfur or phosphorus. Both magnesium and manganese commonly substitute for the iron.

Its crystals belong to the hexagonal system, and are rhombohedral in shape, typically with curved and striated faces. It also occurs in masses. Color ranges from yellow to dark brown or black, the latter being due to the presence of manganese.

Siderite is commonly found in hydrothermal veins, and is associated with barite, fluorite, galena, and others. It may also be deposited by sedimentary processes. In sedimentary rocks, siderite oftern forms at shallow burial depths and its elemental composition is often related to the depositional environment of the enclosing sediments.

Hardness: 3.5-4 Specific Gravity: 3.8 Streak: white Luster: vitreous or pearly

Also, siderite is an obsolete term for a meteorite consisting principally of nickel and iron.

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Código: PC109

Prazo de Envio: Pronta Entrega

Preço: R$ 27,72/unidade

Peso: 70g/unid

Indicar este Produto para um Amigo

Atenção: Por se tratar de produto natural, portanto inteiramente singular, esta foto é ilustrativa, podendo haver nuanças físicas em relação ao produto que será entregue.

Qualidade superior.

Abaixo segue descrição detalhada:

  • Pedra Cascalho: Peso médio de 70g/un e medindo aproximadamente cerca de 2cm.
  • Grupo:
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  • Indicada para:
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ESPECULARITA Óxido de hierro. Variedad del Oligisto. Mena de hierro. Suele ir mezclado con titanio y magnesio.
Color de gris de acero a negro de hierro con hermosas irisaciones. Muestra procedente de Sevilla.


OLIGISTO Óxido de hierro. Mena de hierro. Suele ir mezclado con titanio y magnesio. Color de gris de acero a negro de hierro con hermosas irisaciones. Muestra procedente de Olvega (Soria)
Óxido de hierro. Mena de hierro. Suele ir mezclado con titanio y magnesio. Color de gris de acero a negro de hierro con hermosas irisaciones. Muestra procedente de Olvega (Soria).



For other uses, see Iron (disambiguation). Fe redirects here; for other uses, see FE.
26 manganeseironcobalt


Name, symbol, number iron, Fe, 26
Chemical series transition metals
Group, period, block 84, d
Appearance lustrous metallic
with a grayish tinge
Standard atomic weight 55.845(2) g·mol−1
Electron configuration [Ar] 4s2 3d6
Electrons per shell 2, 8, 14, 2
Physical properties
Phase solid
Density (near r.t.) 7.86 g·cm−3
Liquid density at m.p. 6.98 g·cm−3
Melting point 1811 K
(1538 °C, 2800 °F)
Boiling point 3134 K
(2861 °C, 5182 °F)
Heat of fusion 13.81 kJ·mol−1
Heat of vaporization 340 kJ·mol−1
Heat capacity (25 °C) 25.10 J·mol−1·K−1
Vapor pressure
P/Pa 1 10 100 1 k 10 k 100 k
at T/K 1728 1890 2091 2346 2679 3132
Atomic properties
Crystal structure body-centered cubic
a=286.65 pm;
face-centered cubic
between 1185–1667 K
Oxidation states 6, 5 [1], 4, 3, 2, 1 [2]
(amphoteric oxide)
Electronegativity 1.83 (Pauling scale)
Ionization energies
1st: 762.5 kJ·mol−1
2nd: 1561.9 kJ·mol−1
3rd: 2957 kJ·mol−1
Atomic radius 140 pm
Atomic radius (calc.) 156 pm
Covalent radius 125 pm
Magnetic ordering ferromagnetic
1043 K
Electrical resistivity (20 °C) 96.1 nΩ·m
Thermal conductivity (300 K) 80.4 W·m−1·K−1
Thermal expansion (25 °C) 11.8 µm·m−1·K−1
Speed of sound (thin rod) (r.t.) (electrolytic)
5120 m·s−1
Young's modulus 211 GPa
Shear modulus 82 GPa
Bulk modulus 170 GPa
Poisson ratio 0.29
Mohs hardness 4.0
Vickers hardness 608 MPa
Brinell hardness 490 MPa
CAS registry number 7439-89-6
Selected isotopes
Main article: Isotopes of iron
iso NA half-life DM DE (MeV) DP
54Fe 5.8% >3.1×1022y 2ε capture  ? 54Cr
55Fe syn 2.73 y ε capture 0.231 55Mn
56Fe 91.72% Fe is stable with 30 neutrons
57Fe 2.2% Fe is stable with 31 neutrons
58Fe 0.28% Fe is stable with 32 neutrons
59Fe syn 44.503 d β- 1.565 59Co
60Fe syn 1.5×106 y β- 3.978 60Co
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Iron (pronounced /ˈaɪɚn/) is a chemical element with the symbol Fe (Latin: ferrum) and atomic number 26. Iron is a group 8 and period 4 metal. Iron is a lustrous, silvery soft metal. Iron and nickel are notable for being the final elements produced by stellar nucleosynthesis, and thus are the heaviest elements which do not require a red giant or supernova for formation. Iron and nickel are therefore the most abundant metals in metallic meteorites and in the dense-metal cores of planets such as Earth. It is one of the few ferromagnetic elements.




Iron is believed to be the tenth most abundant element in the universe, and the fourth most abundant in the Earth's crust. The concentration of iron in the various layers in the structure of the Earth ranges from high (probably greater than 80%, perhaps even a nearly pure iron crystal) at the inner core, to only 5% in the outer crust. Iron is second in abundance to aluminum among the metals and fourth in abundance in the crust. Iron is the most abundant element by mass of our entire planet, making up 35% of the mass of the Earth as a whole.

Iron is a metal extracted from iron ore, and is almost never found in the free elemental state. In order to obtain elemental iron, the impurities must be removed by chemical reduction. Iron is the main component of steel, and it is used in the production of alloys or solid solutions of various metals, as well as some non-metals, particularly carbon. The many iron-carbon alloys, which have very different properties, are discussed in the article on steel.

Nuclei of iron have some of the highest binding energies per nucleon, surpassed only by the nickel isotope 62Ni. The universally most abundant of the highly stable nuclides is, however, 56Fe. This is formed by nuclear fusion in stars. Although a further tiny energy gain could be extracted by synthesizing 62Ni, conditions in stars are unsuitable for this process to be favoured, and iron abundance on Earth greatly favors iron over nickel, and also presumably in supernova element production.[1] When a very large star contracts at the end of its life, internal pressure and temperature rise, allowing the star to produce progressively heavier elements, despite these being less stable than the elements around mass number 60, known as the "iron group". This leads to a supernova.

Iron (as Fe2+, ferrous ion) is a necessary trace element used by almost all living organisms, the only exceptions are a few prokaryotic organisms which live in iron-poor conditions (such as the lactobacilli in iron-poor milk) which use manganese for catalysis instead as well as organisms which use hemocyanin instead of hemoglobin. Iron-containing enzymes, usually containing heme prosthetic groups, participate in catalysis of oxidation reactions in biology, and in transport of a number of soluble gases. See hemoglobin, cytochrome, and catalase.


Iron is the most used of all the metals, comprising 95% of all the metal tonnage produced worldwide. Its combination of low cost and high strength make it indispensable, especially in applications like automobiles, the hulls of large ships, and structural components for buildings. Steel is the best known alloy of iron, and some of the forms that iron can take include:

  • Pig iron has 4% – 5% carbon and contains varying amounts of contaminants such as sulfur, silicon and phosphorus. Its only significance is that of an intermediate step on the way from iron ore to cast iron and steel.
  • Cast iron contains 2% – 4.0% carbon , 1% – 6% silicon , and small amounts of manganese. Contaminants present in pig iron that negatively affect material properties, such as sulfur and phosphorus, have been reduced to an acceptable level. It has a melting point in the range of 1420–1470 K, which is lower than either of its two main components, and makes it the first product to be melted when carbon and iron are heated together. Its mechanical properties vary greatly, dependent upon the form carbon takes in the alloy. 'White' cast irons contain their carbon in the form of cementite, or iron carbide. This hard, brittle compound dominates the mechanical properties of white cast irons, rendering them hard, but unresistant to shock. The broken surface of a white cast iron is full of fine facets of the broken carbide, a very pale, silvery, shiny material, hence the appellation. In grey iron the carbon exists free as fine flakes of graphite, and also renders the material brittle due to the stress-raising nature of the sharp edged flakes of graphite. A newer variant of grey iron, referred to as ductile iron is specially treated with trace amounts of magnesium to alter the shape of graphite to spheroids, or nodules, vastly increasing the toughness and strength of the material.
  • Carbon steel contains between 0.4% and 1.5% carbon, with small amounts of manganese, sulfur, phosphorus, and silicon.
  • Wrought iron contains less than 0.2% carbon. It is a tough, malleable product, not as fusible as pig iron. It has a very small amount of carbon, a few tenths of a percent. If honed to an edge, it loses it quickly. Wrought iron is characterised, especially in old samples, by the presence of fine 'stringers' or filaments of slag entrapped in the metal. Wrought iron does not rust particularly quickly when used outdoors. It has largely been replaced by mild steel for "wrought iron" gates and blacksmithing. Mild steel does not have the same corrosion resistance but is cheaper and more widely available.
  • Alloy steels contain varying amounts of carbon as well as other metals, such as chromium, vanadium, molybdenum, nickel, tungsten, etc. They are used for structural purposes, as their alloy content raises their cost and necessitates justification of their use. Recent developments in ferrous metallurgy have produced a growing range of microalloyed steels, also termed 'HSLA' or high-strength, low alloy steels, containing tiny additions to produce high strengths and often spectacular toughness at minimal cost.
  • Iron(III) oxides are used in the production of magnetic storage media in computers. They are often mixed with other compounds, and retain their magnetic properties in solution.

The main drawback to iron and steel is that pure iron, and most of its alloys, suffer badly from rust if not protected in some way. Painting, galvanization, plastic coating and bluing are some techniques used to protect iron from rust by excluding water and oxygen or by sacrificial protection.

Iron is believed to be the critical missing nutrient in the ocean that limits the growth of plankton. Experimental iron fertilization of areas of the ocean using iron(II) sulfate has proven successful in increasing plankton growth.[2][3][4] Larger scaled efforts are being attempted with the hope that iron seeding and ocean plankton growth can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thereby counteracting the greenhouse effect that is generally agreed by climatologists to cause global warming.[5]

[edit] Iron compounds

See also iron compounds.
Iron chloride hexahydrate
Iron chloride hexahydrate
  • Iron(III) acetate (Fe(C2H3O2)3 is used in the dyeing of cloth.
  • Iron(III) ammonium oxalate (Fe(NH4)3(C2O4)4) is used in blueprints.
  • Iron(III) chloride (FeCl3) is used: in water purification and sewage treatment, in the dyeing of cloth, as a coloring agent in paints, as an additive in animal feed, and as an etching material for engravement, photography and printed circuits.
  • Iron(III) chromate (Fe2(CrO4)3) is used as a yellow pigment for paints and ceramic.
  • Iron-Fluorine complex (FeF6)3- is found in solutions containing both Fe(III) ions and fluoride ions.

Historical aspects

The puddling process of smelting iron ore to make pig iron from wrought iron, with the right illustration displaying men working a blast furnace, from the Tiangong Kaiwu encyclopedia, published 1637 by Song Yingxing.
The puddling process of smelting iron ore to make pig iron from wrought iron, with the right illustration displaying men working a blast furnace, from the Tiangong Kaiwu encyclopedia, published 1637 by Song Yingxing.

The first iron used by mankind, far back in prehistory, came from meteors. The smelting of iron in bloomeries probably began in Anatolia or the Caucasus in the second millennium BC or the latter part of the preceding one. Cast iron was first produced in China about 550 BC, but not in Europe until the medieval period. During the medieval period, means were found in Europe of producing wrought iron from cast iron (in this context known as pig iron) using finery forges. For all these processes, charcoal was required as fuel.

Steel (with a smaller carbon content than pig iron but more than wrought iron) was first produced in antiquity. New methods of producing it by carburizing bars of iron in the cementation process were devised in the 17th century AD. In the Industrial Revolution, new methods of producing bar iron without charcoal were devised and these were later applied to produce steel. In the late 1850s, Henry Bessemer invented a new steelmaking process, involving blowing air through molten pig iron, to produce mild steel. This and other 19th century and later processes have led to wrought iron no longer being produced.


The red appearance of this water is due to iron in the rocks.
The red appearance of this water is due to iron in the rocks.

Iron is one of the most common elements on Earth, making up about 5% of the Earth's crust. Most of this iron is found in various iron oxides, such as the minerals hematite, magnetite, and taconite. The earth's core is believed to consist largely of a metallic iron-nickel alloy. About 5% of the meteorites similarly consist of iron-nickel alloy. Although rare, these are the major form of natural metallic iron on the earth's surface.

The reason for Mars' red colour is thought to be an iron-oxide-rich soil.

See also Iron minerals.

 Production of iron from iron ore

Main article: Blast furnace
How Iron was extracted in the 19th century
How Iron was extracted in the 19th century
Iron output in 2005
Iron output in 2005
This heap of iron ore pellets will be used in steel production.
This heap of iron ore pellets will be used in steel production.

Ninety percent of all mining of metallic ores is for the extraction of iron. Industrially, iron is produced starting from iron ores, principally haematite (nominally Fe2O3) and magnetite (Fe3O4) by a carbothermic reaction (reduction with carbon) in a blast furnace at temperatures of about 2000 °C. In a blast furnace, iron ore, carbon in the form of coke, and a flux such as limestone (which is used to remove impurities in the ore which would otherwise clog the furnace with solid material) are fed into the top of the furnace, while a blast of heated air is forced into the furnace at the bottom.

In the furnace,(hot/oven) the coke reacts with oxygen in the air blast to produce carbon monoxide:

2 C + O2 → 2 CO

The carbon monoxide reduces the iron ore (in the chemical equation below, hematite) to molten iron, becoming carbon dioxide in the process:

3 CO + Fe2O3 → 2 Fe + 3 CO2

The flux is present to melt impurities in the ore, principally silicon dioxide sand and other silicates. Common fluxes include limestone (principally calcium carbonate) and dolomite (calcium-magnesium carbonate). Other fluxes may be used depending on the impurities that need to be removed from the ore. In the heat of the furnace the limestone flux decomposes to calcium oxide (quicklime):

CaCO3CaO + CO2

Then calcium oxide combines with silicon dioxide to form a slag.

CaO + SiO2CaSiO3

The slag melts in the heat of the furnace, which silicon dioxide would not have. In the bottom of the furnace, the molten slag floats on top of the more dense molten iron, and apertures in the side of the furnace are opened to run off the iron and the slag separately. The iron once cooled, is called pig iron, while the slag can be used as a material in road construction or to improve mineral-poor soils for agriculture.

Pig iron is not pure iron, but has 4-5% carbon dissolved in it. This is subsequently reduced to steel or commercially pure iron, known as wrought iron, using other furnaces or converters.

In 2005, approximately 1,544 Mt (million metric tons) of iron ore was produced worldwide. China was the top producer of iron ore with at least one-fourth world share followed by Brazil, Australia and India, reports the British Geological Survey.


Main article: isotopes of iron

Naturally occurring iron consists of four isotopes: 5.845% of radioactive 54Fe (half-life: >3.1×1022 years), 91.754% of stable 56Fe, 2.119% of stable 57Fe and 0.282% of stable 58Fe. 60Fe is an extinct radionuclide of long half-life (1.5 million years).

Much of the past work on measuring the isotopic composition of Fe has centered on determining 60Fe variations due to processes accompanying nucleosynthesis (i.e., meteorite studies) and ore formation. In the last decade however, advances in mass spectrometry technology have allowed the detection and quantification of minute, naturally-occurring variations in the ratios of the stable isotopes of iron. Much of this work has been driven by the Earth and planetary science communities, although applications to biological and industrial systems are beginning to emerge.[6]

The isotope 56Fe is of particular interest to nuclear scientists. A common misconception is that this isotope represents the most stable nucleus possible, and that it thus would be impossible to perform fission or fusion on 56Fe and still liberate energy. This is not true, as both 62Ni and 58Fe are more stable, being the most stable nuclei. However, since 56Fe is much more easily produced from lighter nuclei in nuclear reactions, it is the endpoint of fusion chains inside extremely massive stars and is therefore common in the universe, relative to other metals.

In phases of the meteorites Semarkona and Chervony Kut a correlation between the concentration of 60Ni, the daughter product of 60Fe, and the abundance of the stable iron isotopes could be found which is evidence for the existence of 60Fe at the time of formation of the solar system. Possibly the energy released by the decay of 60Fe contributed, together with the energy released by decay of the radionuclide 26Al, to the remelting and differentiation of asteroids after their formation 4.6 billion years ago. The abundance of 60Ni present in extraterrestrial material may also provide further insight into the origin of the solar system and its early history. Of the stable isotopes, only 57Fe has a nuclear spin (−1/2).

 Iron in organic synthesis

The usage of iron metal filings in organic synthesis is mainly for the reduction of nitro compounds.[7] Additionally, iron has been used for desulfurizations,[8] reduction of aldehydes,[9] and the deoxygenation of amine oxides.[10]

 Iron in biology

Structure of Heme b
Structure of Heme b
Main article: human iron metabolism

Iron is essential to nearly all known organisms. In cells, iron is generally stored in the centre of metalloproteins, because "free" iron -- which binds non-specifically to many cellular components -- can catalyse production of toxic free radicals.

In animals, plants, and fungi, iron is often incorporated into the heme complex. Heme is an essential component of cytochrome proteins, which mediate redox reactions, and of oxygen carrier proteins such as hemoglobin, myoglobin, and leghemoglobin. Inorganic iron also contributes to redox reactions in the iron-sulfur clusters of many enzymes, such as nitrogenase (involved in the synthesis of ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen) and hydrogenase. Non-heme iron proteins include the enzymes methane monooxygenase (oxidizes methane to methanol), ribonucleotide reductase (reduces ribose to deoxyribose; DNA biosynthesis), hemerythrins (oxygen transport and fixation in marine invertebrates) and purple acid phosphatase (hydrolysis of phosphate esters).

Iron distribution is heavily regulated in mammals, partly because iron has a high potential for biological toxicity. Iron distribution is also regulated because many bacteria require iron, so restricting its availability to bacteria (generally by sequestering it inside cells) can help to prevent or limit infections. This is probably the reason for the relatively low amounts of iron in mammalian milk. A major component of this regulation is the protein transferrin, which binds iron absorbed from the duodenum and carries it in the blood to cells.[11]

 Nutrition and dietary sources

Good sources of dietary iron include red meat, fish, poultry, lentils, beans, leaf vegetables, tofu, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, potatoes with skin, bread made from completely whole-grain flour, molasses, teff and farina. Iron in meat is more easily absorbed than iron in vegetables.[12]

Iron provided by dietary supplements is often found as iron (II) fumarate, although iron sulfate is cheaper and is absorbed equally well. Elemental iron, despite being absorbed to a much smaller extent (stomach acid is sufficient to convert some of it to ferrous iron), is often added to foods such as breakfast cereals or "enriched" wheat flour (where it is listed as "reduced iron" in the list of ingredients). Iron is most available to the body when chelated to amino acids - iron in this form is ten to fifteen times more bioavailable than any other, and is also available for use as a common iron supplement. Often the amino acid chosen for this purpose is the cheapest and most common amino acid, glycine, leading to "iron glycinate" supplements.[13] The RDA for iron varies considerably based on age, gender, and source of dietary iron (heme-based iron has higher bioavailability).[14] Infants will require iron supplements if they are not breast-fed. Blood donors are at special risk of low iron levels and are often advised to supplement their iron intake.

 Regulation of iron uptake

Excessive iron can be toxic, because free ferrous iron reacts with peroxides to produce free radicals, which are highly reactive and can damage DNA, proteins, lipids, and other cellular components. Thus, iron toxicity occurs when there is free iron in the cell, which generally occurs when iron levels exceed the capacity of transferrin to bind the iron.

Iron uptake is tightly regulated by the human body, which has no physiological means of excreting iron, so controls iron levels solely by regulating uptake. Although uptake is regulated, large amounts of ingested iron can cause excessive levels of iron in the blood, because high iron levels can cause damage to the cells of the gastrointestinal tract that prevents them from regulating iron absorption. High blood concentrations of iron damage cells in the heart, liver and elsewhere, which can cause serious problems, including long-term organ damage and even death.

Humans experience iron toxicity above 20 milligrams of iron for every kilogram of mass, and 60 milligrams per kilogram is a lethal dose.[15] Over-consumption of iron, often the result of children eating large quantities of ferrous sulfate tablets intended for adult consumption, is one of the most common toxicological causes of death in children under six.[15] The DRI lists the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for adults as 45 mg/day. For children under fourteen years old the UL is 40 mg/day.

Regulation of iron uptake is impaired in some people as a result of a genetic defect that maps to the HLA-H gene region on chromosome 6. In these people, excessive iron intake can result in iron overload disorders, such as hemochromatosis. Many people have a genetic susceptibility to iron overload without realizing it or being aware of a family history of the problem. For this reason, it is advised that people should not take iron supplements unless they suffer from iron deficiency and have consulted a doctor. Hemochromatosis is estimated to cause disease in between 0.3 and 0.8% of Caucasians. [16]

The medical management of iron toxicity is complex, and can include use of a specific chelating agent called deferoxamine to bind and expel excess iron from the body.


  • Los Alamos National Laboratory — Iron
  • H. R. Schubert, History of the British Iron and Steel Industry ... to 1775 AD (Routledge, London, 1957)
  • R. F. Tylecote, History of Metallurgy (Institute of Materials, London 1992).
  • R. F. Tylecote, 'Iron in the Industrial Revolution' in J. Day and R. F. Tylecote, The Industrial Revolution in Metals (Institute of Materials 1991), 200-60.
  • Crystal structure of iron


  1. ^ Iron and Nickel Abundances in H~II Regions and Supernova Remnants
  2. ^ Vivian Marx (2002). "The Little Plankton That Could…Maybe". Scientific American. 
  3. ^ Melinda Ferguson, David Labiak, Andrew Madden, Joseph Peltier. The Effect of Iron on Plankton Use of CO2. CEM 181H. Retrieved on 2007-05-05.
  4. ^ Dopyera, Caroline (October, 1996). The Iron Hypothesis. EARTH. Retrieved on 2007-05-05.
  5. ^ O'Conner, Steve. "Researchers 'seed' ocean with iron to soak up CO2", THE INDEPENDENT, 2007-05-03. Retrieved on 2007-05-05. 
  6. ^ Dauphas, N. & Rouxel, O. 2006. Mass spectrometry and natural variations of iron isotopes. Mass Spectrometry Reviews, 25, 515-550
  7. ^ Fox, B. A.; Threlfall, T. L. Organic Syntheses, Coll. Vol. 5, p.346 (1973); Vol. 44, p.34 (1964). (Article)
  8. ^ Blomquist, A. T.; Dinguid, L. I. J. Org. Chem. 1947, 12, 718 & 723.
  9. ^ Clarke, H. T.; Dreger, E. E. Org. Syn., Coll. Vol. 1, p.304 (1941); Vol. 6, p.52 (1926). (Article).
  10. ^ den Hertog, J.; Overhoff, J. Recl. Trav. Chim. Pays-Bas 1950, 69, 468.
  11. ^ Tracey A. Rouault. How Mammals Acquire and Distribute Iron Needed for Oxygen-Based Metabolism. Retrieved on 2006-06-19.
  12. ^
  13. ^ Ashmead, H. DeWayne (1989). Conversations on Chelation and Mineral Nutrition. Keats Publishing. ISBN 0-87983-501-X. 
  14. ^ Dietary Reference Intakes: Elements (PDF).
  15. ^ a b Toxicity, Iron. Emedicine. Retrieved on 2006-06-19.
  16. ^ Durupt S, Durieu I, Nove-Josserand R, et al: [Hereditary hemochromatosis]. Rev Med Interne 2000 Nov; 21(11): 961-71[Medline].
  • Doulias PT, Christoforidis S, Brunk UT, Galaris D. Endosomal and lysosomal effects of desferrioxamine: protection of HeLa cells from hydrogen peroxide-induced DNA damage and induction of cell-cycle arrest. Free Radic Biol Med. 2003;35:719-28.

 See also

Look up iron in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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 External links



The steel cable of a colliery winding tower.
The steel cable of a colliery winding tower.
Look up steel in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

Steel, an alloy, consists mostly of iron, with a carbon content between 0.2 and 1.7 or 2.04% by weight (C:1000–10,8.67Fe), depending on grade. Carbon is the most cost-effective alloying material for iron, but various other alloying elements are used such as manganese and tungsten.[1] Carbon and other elements act as a hardening agent, preventing dislocations in the iron atom crystal lattice from sliding past one another. Varying the amount of alloying elements and form of their presence in the steel (solute elements, precipitated phase) controls qualities such as the hardness, ductility, and tensile strength of the resulting steel. Steel with increased carbon content can be made harder and stronger than iron, but is also more brittle. The maximum solubility of carbon in iron (in austenite region) is 2.14% by weight, occurring at 1149 °C; higher concentrations of carbon or lower temperatures will produce cementite. Alloys with higher carbon content than this are known as cast iron because of their lower melting point.[1] Steel is also to be distinguished from wrought iron containing only a very small amount of other elements, but containing 1–3% by weight of slag in the form of particles elongated in one direction, giving the iron a characteristic grain. It is more rust-resistant than steel and welds more easily. It is common today to talk about 'the iron and steel industry' as if it were a single entity, but historically they were separate products.

Though steel had been produced by various inefficient methods long before the Renaissance, its use became more common after more efficient production methods were devised in the 17th century. With the invention of the Bessemer process in the mid-19th century, steel became a relatively inexpensive mass-produced good. Further refinements in the process, such as basic oxygen steelmaking, further lowered the cost of production while increasing the quality of the metal. Today, steel is one of the most common materials in the world and is a major component in buildings, tools, automobiles, and appliances. Modern steel is generally identified by various grades of steel defined by various standards organizations.



Material properties

v  d  e
Iron alloy phases

Austenite (γ-iron; hard)
Cementite (iron carbide; Fe3C)
Ledeburite (ferrite - cementite eutectic, 4.3% carbon)
Ferrite (α-iron, δ-iron; soft)
Pearlite (88% ferrite, 12% cementite)

Types of Steel

Plain-carbon steel (up to 2.1% carbon)
Stainless steel (alloy with chromium)
HSLA steel (high strength low alloy)
Tool steel (very hard; heat-treated)

Other Iron-based materials

Cast iron (>2.1% carbon)
Wrought iron (almost no carbon)
Ductile iron

Iron, like most metals, is not usually found in the Earth's crust in an elemental state.[2] Iron can be found in the crust only in combination with oxygen or sulfur. Typical iron-containing minerals include Fe2O3—the form of iron oxide found as the mineral hematite, and FeS2pyrite (fool's gold).[3] Iron is extracted from ore by removing the oxygen by combining it with a preferred chemical partner such as carbon. This process, known as smelting, was first applied to metals with lower melting points. Copper melts at just over 1000 °C, while tin melts around 250 °C. Cast iron—iron alloyed with greater than 1.7% carbon—melts at around 1370 °C. All of these temperatures could be reached with ancient methods that have been used for at least 6000 years (since the Bronze Age). Since the oxidation rate itself increases rapidly beyond 800 °C, it is important that smelting take place in a low-oxygen environment. Unlike copper and tin, liquid iron dissolves carbon quite readily, so that smelting results in an alloy containing too much carbon to be called steel.[4]

Even in the narrow range of concentrations that make up steel, mixtures of carbon and iron can form into a number of different structures, with very different properties; understanding these is essential to making quality steel. At room temperature, the most stable form of iron is the body-centered cubic (BCC) structure ferrite or α-iron, a fairly soft metallic material that can dissolve only a small concentration of carbon (no more than 0.021 wt% at 910 °C). Above 910 °C ferrite undergoes a phase transition from body-centered cubic to a face-centered cubic (FCC) structure, called austenite or γ-iron, which is similarly soft and metallic but can dissolve considerably more carbon (as much as 2.03 wt% carbon at 1154 °C).[5] As carbon-rich austenite cools, the mixture attempts to revert to the ferrite phase, resulting in an excess of carbon. One way for carbon to leave the austenite is for cementite to precipitate out of the mix, leaving behind iron that is pure enough to take the form of ferrite, resulting in a cementite-ferrite mixture. Cementite is a stoichiometric phase with the chemical formula of Fe3C. Cementite forms in regions of higher carbon content while other areas revert to ferrite around it. Self-reinforcing patterns often emerge during this process, leading to a patterned layering known as pearlite (Fe3C:6.33Fe) due to its pearl-like appearance, or the similar but less beautiful bainite.

Iron-carbon phase diagram, showing the conditions necessary to form different phases.
Iron-carbon phase diagram, showing the conditions necessary to form different phases.

Perhaps the most important allotrope is martensite, a chemically metastable substance with about four to five times the strength of ferrite. A minimum of 0.4 wt% of carbon (C:50Fe) is needed to form martensite. When austenite is quenched to form martensite, the carbon is "frozen" in place when the cell structure changes from FCC to BCC. The carbon atoms are much too large to fit in the interstitial vacancies and thus distort the cell structure into a body-centered tetragonal (BCT) structure. Martensite and austenite have an identical chemical composition. As such, it requires extremely little thermal activation energy to form.

The heat treatment process for most steels involves heating the alloy until austenite forms, then quenching the hot metal in water or oil, cooling it so rapidly that the transformation to ferrite or pearlite does not have time to take place. The transformation into martensite, by contrast, occurs almost immediately, due to a lower activation energy.

Martensite has a lower density than austenite, so that transformation between them results in a change of volume. In this case, expansion occurs. Internal stresses from this expansion generally take the form of compression on the crystals of martensite and tension on the remaining ferrite, with a fair amount of shear on both constituents. If quenching is done improperly, these internal stresses can cause a part to shatter as it cools; at the very least, they cause internal work hardening and other microscopic imperfections. It is common for quench cracks to form when water quenched, although they may not always be visible.[6]

Iron ore pellets for the production of steel.
Iron ore pellets for the production of steel.

At this point, if the carbon content is high enough to produce a significant concentration of martensite, the result is an extremely hard but very brittle material. Often, steel undergoes further heat treatment at a lower temperature to destroy some of the martensite (by allowing enough time for cementite etc. to form) and help settle the internal stresses and defects. This softens the steel, producing a more ductile and fracture-resistant metal. Because time is so critical to the end result, this process is known as tempering, which forms tempered steel.[7]

Other materials are often added to the iron/carbon mixture to tailor the resulting properties. Nickel and manganese in steel add to its tensile strength and make austenite more chemically stable, chromium increases hardness and melting temperature, and vanadium also increases hardness while reducing the effects of metal fatigue. Large amounts of chromium and nickel (often 18% and 8%, respectively) are added to stainless steel so that a hard oxide forms on the metal surface to inhibit corrosion. Tungsten interferes with the formation of cementite, allowing martensite to form with slower quench rates, resulting in high speed steel. On the other hand sulfur, nitrogen, and phosphorus make steel more brittle, so these commonly found elements must be removed from the ore during processing.[8]

When iron is smelted from its ore by commercial processes, it contains more carbon than is desirable. To become steel, it must be melted and reprocessed to remove the correct amount of carbon, at which point other elements can be added. Once this liquid is cast into ingots, it usually must be "worked" at high temperature to remove any cracks or poorly mixed regions from the solidification process, and to produce shapes such as plate, sheet, wire, etc. It is then heat-treated to produce a desirable crystal structure, and often "cold worked" to produce the final shape. In modern steel making these processes are often combined, with ore going in one end of the assembly line and finished steel coming out the other. These can be streamlined by a deft control of the interaction between work hardening and tempering.

 History of steelmaking

Bloomery smelting during the Middle Ages.
Bloomery smelting during the Middle Ages.

 Ancient steel

Steel was known in antiquity, and may have been produced by managing the bloomery so that the bloom contained carbon.[9] Some of the first steel comes from East Africa, dating back to 1400 BCE.[10] In the 4th century BCE steel weapons like the Falcata were produced in the Iberian peninsula. The Chinese of the Han Dynasty (202 BCE – 220 CE) created steel by melting together wrought iron with cast iron, gaining an ultimate product of a carbon-intermediate—steel by the 1st century CE.[11][12] Along with their original methods of forging steel, the Chinese had also adopted the production methods of creating Wootz steel, an idea imported from India to China by the 5th century CE.[13] Wootz steel was produced in India and Sri Lanka from around 300 BCE. This early steel-making method employed the use of a wind furnace, blown by the monsoon winds.[14] Also known as Damascus steel, wootz is famous for its durability and ability to hold an edge. It was originally created from a number of different materials including various trace elements. It was essentially a complicated alloy with iron as its main component. Recent studies have suggested that carbon nanotubes were included in its structure, which might explain some of its legendary qualities, though given the technology available at that time, they were probably produced more by chance than by design.[15] Crucible steel was produced in Merv by 9th to 10th century CE.

In the 11th century, there is evidence of the production of steel in Song China using two techniques: a "berganesque" method that produced inferior, inhomogeneous steel and a precursor to the modern Bessemer process that utilized partial decarbonization via repeated forging under a cold blast.[16]

Early modern steel

A Bessemer converter in Sheffield, England.
A Bessemer converter in Sheffield, England.

 Blister steel

Main article: Cementation process

Blister steel, produced by the cementation process was first made in Italy in the early 17th century CE and soon after introduced to England. It was probably produced by Sir Basil Brooke at Coalbrookdale during the 1610s. The raw material for this was bars of wrought iron. During the 17th century it was realised that the best steel came from oregrounds iron from a region of Sweden, north of Stockholm. This was still the usual raw material in the 19th century, almost as long as the process was used.[17][18]

 Crucible steel

Main article: Crucible steel

Crucible steel is steel that has been melted in a crucible rather than being forged, with the result that it is more homogeneous. Most previous furnaces could not reach high enough temperatures to melt the steel. The early modern crucible steel industry resulted from the invention of Benjamin Huntsman in the 1740s. Blister steel (made as above) was melted in a crucible in a furnace, and cast (usually) into ingots.[18]

 Modern steelmaking

A Siemens-Martin steel oven from the Brandenburg Museum of Industry.
A Siemens-Martin steel oven from the Brandenburg Museum of Industry.
See also History of the modern steel industry.

The modern era in steelmaking began with the introduction of Henry Bessemer's Bessemer process in the late 1850s. This enabled steel to be produced in large quantities cheaply, so that mild steel is now used for most purposes for which wrought iron was formerly used.[19] This was only the first of a number of methods of steel production. The Gilchrist-Thomas process (or basic Bessemer process) was an improvement to the Bessemer process, lining the converter with a basic material to remove phosphorus. Another was the Siemens-Martin process of open hearth steelmaking, which like the Gilchrist-Thomas process complemented, rather than replaced, the original Bessemer process.[18]

These were rendered obsolete by the Linz-Donawitz process of basic oxygen steelmaking, developed in the 1950s, and other oxygen steelmaking processes.[20]

 Steel industry

Tata Steel plant in the United Kingdom.
Tata Steel plant in the United Kingdom.
Steel output in 2005
Steel output in 2005

Because of the critical role played by steel in infrastructural and overall economic development, the steel industry is often considered to be an indicator of economic prowess.

The economic boom in China and India has caused a massive increase in the demand for steel in recent years. Between 2000 and 2005, world steel demand increased by 6%. Since 2000, several Indian[21] and Chinese steel firms have risen to prominence like Tata Steel (which bought Corus Group in 2007), Shanghai Baosteel Group Corporation and Shagang Group. Arcelor-Mittal is however the world's largest steel producer.

The British Geological Survey reports that in 2005, China was the top producer of steel with about one-third world share followed by Japan, Russia and the USA.

In 2008, steel will be traded as a commodity in the London Metal Exchange.

See also: List of steel producers and Global steel industry trends


Steel is the most widely recycled material in North America. The steel industry has been actively recycling for more than 150 years, in large part because it is economically advantageous to do so. It is cheaper to recycle steel than to mine iron ore and manipulate it through the production process to form 'new' steel. Steel does not lose any of its inherent physical properties during the recycling process, and has drastically reduced energy and material requirements than refinement from iron ore. The energy saved by recycling reduces the annual energy consumption of the industry by about 75%, which is enough to power eighteen million homes for one year.[22] Recycling one ton of steel saves 1,100 kilograms of iron ore, 630 kilograms of coal, and 55 kilograms of limestone.[23] 76 million tons of steel were recycled in 2005.[22]

A pile of steel scrap in Brussels, waiting to be recycled.
A pile of steel scrap in Brussels, waiting to be recycled.

In recent years, about three quarters of the steel produced annually has been recycled. However, the numbers are much higher for certain types of products. For example, in both 2004 and 2005, 97.5% of structural steel beams and plates were recycled.[24] Other steel construction elements such as reinforcement bars are recycled at a rate of about 65%. Indeed, structural steel typically contains around 95% recycled steel content, whereas lighter gauge, flat rolled steel contains about 30% reused material.

Because steel beams are manufactured to standardized dimensions, there is often very little waste produced during construction, and any waste that is produced may be recycled. For a typical 2,000-square-foot (200 m²) two-story house, a steel frame is equivalent to about six recycled cars, while a comparable wooden frame house may require as many as 40–50 trees.[22]

Global demand for steel continues to grow, and though there are large amounts of steel existing, much of it is actively in use. As such, recycled steel must be augmented by some first-use metal, derived from raw materials. Commonly recycled steel products include cans, automobiles, appliances, and debris from demolished buildings. A typical appliance is about 65% steel by weight and automobiles are about 66% steel and iron.

While some recycling takes place through the integrated steel mills and the basic oxygen process, most of the recycled steel is melted electrically, either using an electric arc furnace (for production of low-carbon steel) or an induction furnace (for production of some highly-alloyed ferrous products).

 Contemporary steel

Modern steels are made with varying combinations of alloy metals to fulfill many purposes.[8] Carbon steel, composed simply of iron and carbon, accounts for 90% of steel production.[1] High strength low alloy steel has small additions (usually < 2% by weight) of other elements, typically 1.5% manganese, to provide additional strength for a modest price increase.[25] Low alloy steel is alloyed with other elements, usually molybdenum, manganese, chromium, or nickel, in amounts of up to 10% by weight to improve the hardenability of thick sections.[1] Stainless steels and surgical stainless steels contain a minimum of 10% chromium, often combined with nickel, to resist corrosion (rust). Some stainless steels are magnetic, while others are nonmagnetic.[26]

Some more modern steels include tool steels, which are alloyed with large amounts of tungsten and cobalt or other elements to maximize solution hardening. This also allows the use of precipitation hardening and improves the alloy's temperature resistance.[1] Tool steel is generally used in axes, drills, and other devices that need a sharp, long-lasting cutting edge. Other special-purpose alloys include weathering steels such as Cor-ten, which weather by acquiring a stable, rusted surface, and so can be used un-painted.[27]

Many other high-strength alloys exist, such as dual-phase steel, which is heat treated to contain both a ferrite and martensic microstructure for extra strength.[28] Transformation Induced Plasticity (TRIP) steel involves special alloying and heat treatments to stabilize amounts of austentite at room temperature in normally austentite-free low-alloy ferritic steels. By applying strain to the metal, the austentite undergoes a phase transition to martensite without the addition of heat.[29] Maraging steel is alloyed with nickel and other elements, but unlike most steel contains almost no carbon at all. This creates a very strong but still malleable metal.[30] Twinning Induced Plasticity (TWIP) steel uses a specific type of strain to increase the effectiveness of work hardening on the alloy.[31] Eglin Steel uses a combination of over a dozen different elements in varying amounts to create a relatively low-cost metal for use in bunker buster weapons. Hadfield steel (after Sir Robert Hadfield) or manganese steel contains 12–14% manganese which when abraded forms an incredibly hard skin which resists wearing. Examples include tank tracks, bulldozer blade edges and cutting blades on the jaws of life.[32] A special class of high-strength alloy, the superalloys, retain their mechanical properties at extreme temperatures while minimizing creep. These are commonly used in applications such as jet engine blades where temperatures can reach levels at which most other alloys would become weak.[33]

Most of the more commonly used steel alloys are categorized into various grades by standards organizations. For example, the American Iron and Steel Institute has a series of grades defining many types of steel ranging from standard carbon steel to HSLA and stainless steel.[34] The American Society for Testing and Materials has a separate set of standards, which define alloys such as A36 steel, the most commonly used structural steel in the United States.[35]

Though not an alloy, galvanized steel is a commonly used variety of steel which has been hot-dipped or electroplated in zinc for protection against rust.[36]

 Modern production methods

White-hot steel pouring out of an electric arc furnace.
White-hot steel pouring out of an electric arc furnace.

Blast furnaces have been used for two millennia to produce pig iron, a crucial step in the steel production process, from iron ore by combining fuel, charcoal, and air. Modern methods use coke instead of charcoal, which has proven to be a great deal more efficient and is credited with contributing to the British Industrial Revolution.[37] Once the iron is refined, converters are used to create steel from the iron. During the late 19th and early 20th century there were many widely used methods such as the Bessemer process and the Siemens-Martin process. However, basic oxygen steelmaking, in which pure oxygen is fed to the furnace to limit impurities, has generally replaced these older systems. Electric arc furnaces are a common method of reprocessing scrap metal to create new steel. They can also be used for converting pig iron to steel, but they use a great deal of electricity (about 440 kWh per metric ton), and are thus generally only economical when there is a plentiful supply of cheap electricity.[38]

 Uses of steel

Iron and steel are used widely in the construction of roads, railways, infrastructure and buildings. Most large modern structures, such as stadiums and skyscrapers, bridges and airports, are supported by a steel skeleton. Even those with a concrete structure will employ steel for reinforcing. In addition to widespread use in major appliances and cars (despite growth in usage of aluminium, it is still the main material for car bodies), steel is used in a variety of other construction-related applications, such as bolts, nails, and screws.[39] Other common applications include shipbuilding, pipeline transport, mining, aerospace, white goods (eg. washing machines), heavy equipment (eg. bulldozers), office furniture, steel wool, tools, and armour in the form of personal vests or vehicle armour (better known as rolled homogeneous armour in this role).

A piece of steel wool
A piece of steel wool


Before the introduction of the Bessemer process and other modern production techniques, steel was expensive and was only used where no cheaper alternative existed, particularly for the cutting edge of knives, razors, swords, and other items where a hard, sharp edge was needed. It was also used for springs, including those used in clocks and watches.[18]

A carbon steel knife
A carbon steel knife

 Since 1850

With the advent of faster and more efficient steel production methods, steel has been easier to obtain and much cheaper. It has replaced wrought iron for a multitude of purposes. However, the availability of plastics during the later 20th century allowed these materials to replace steel in many products due to their lower cost and weight.[40]

 Long steel

A stainless steel sauce boat.
A stainless steel sauce boat.

 Flat carbon steel

A steel pylon suspending overhead powerlines.
A steel pylon suspending overhead powerlines.

 Stainless steel

A steel roller coaster.
A steel roller coaster.
Main article: Stainless steel

 See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Ashby, Michael F.; & David R. H. Jones [1986] (1992). Engineering Materials 2, with corrections (in English), Oxford: Pergamon Press. ISBN 0-08-032532-7. 
  2. ^ Winter, Mark. Periodic Table: Iron. The University of Sheffield. Retrieved on 2007-02-28.
  3. ^ F. Brookins, Theo. (November 1899). "Common Minerals and Valuable Ores". Birds and All Nature 6 (4). A. W. Mumford. Retrieved on 2007-02-28. 
  4. ^ "Smelting". Britannica. (2007). Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved on 2007-02-28. 
  5. ^ Mittemeijer, E. J.; Slycke, J. T.. Chemical potentials and activities of nitrogen and carbon imposed by gaseous nitriding and carburising atmospheres (PDF). Surface Engineering 1996 Vol. 12 No. 2 156. Retrieved on 2006-08-10.
  6. ^ Quench hardening of steel. INI International. Retrieved on 2007-02-28.
  7. ^ Pye, David. Steel Heat Treating. Gardner Publications, Inc.. Retrieved on 2007-02-28.
  8. ^ a b Alloying of Steels. Metallurgical Consultants (2006-06-28). Retrieved on 2007-02-28.
  9. ^ Wagner, Donald B.. Early iron in China, Korea, and Japan. Retrieved on 2007-02-28.
  10. ^ Civilizations in Africa: The Iron Age South of the Sahara. Washington State University. Retrieved on 2007-08-14.
  11. ^ Needham, Volume 4, Part 3, 563 g
  12. ^ Gernet, 69.
  13. ^ Needham, Volume 4, Part 1, 282.
  14. ^ G. Juleff (1996). "An ancient wind powered iron smelting technology in Sri Lanka". Nature 379 (3): 60-63. doi:10.1038/379060a0. 
  15. ^ Sanderson, Katharine. "Sharpest cut from nanotube sword: Carbon nanotech may have given swords of Damascus their edge", Nature, 2006-11-15. Retrieved on 2006-11-17. 
  16. ^ Robert Hartwell, 'Markets, Technology and the Structure of Enterprise in the Development of the Eleventh Century Chinese Iron and Steel Industry' Journal of Economic History 26 (1966). pp. 53-54
  17. ^ P. W. King, 'The Cartel in Oregrounds Iron: trading in the raw material for steel during the eighteenth century' Journal of Industrial History 6(1) (2003), 25-49.
  18. ^ a b c d "Iron and steel industry". Britannica. (2007). Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved on 2007-03-01. 
  19. ^ "Bessemer process". Britannica 2. (2005). Encyclopedia Britannica. 168. Retrieved on 2005-08-06. 
  20. ^ "Basic oxygen process". Britannica. (2007). Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved on 2007-02-28. 
  21. ^ India's steel industry steps onto world stage.
  22. ^ a b c
  23. ^ Information on Recycling Steel Products. WasteCap of Massachusetts. Retrieved on 2007-02-28.
  24. ^ STEEL RECYCLING RATES AT A GLANCE (PDF). (2005). Retrieved on 2007-08-13.
  25. ^ High strength low alloy steels. Retrieved on 2007-08-14.
  26. ^ Steel Glossary. American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI). Retrieved on 2006-07-30.
  27. ^ Steel Interchange. American Institute of Steel Construction Inc. (AISC). Retrieved on 2007-02-28.
  28. ^ Dual-phase steel. Intota Expert Knowledge Services. Retrieved on 2007-03-01.
  29. ^ Werner, Prof. Dr. mont. Ewald. Transformation Induced Plasticity in low alloyed TRIP-steels and microstructure response to a complex stress history. Retrieved on 2007-03-01.
  30. ^ Properties of Maraging Steels. INI International. Retrieved on 2007-03-01.
  31. ^ Mirko, Centi; Saliceti Stefano. Transformation Induced Plasticity (TRIP), Twinning Induced Plasticity (TWIP) and Dual-Phase (DP) Steels. Tampere University of Technology. Retrieved on 2007-03-01.
  32. ^ Hadfield manganese steel. McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms, McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 2003. Retrieved on 2007-02-28.
  33. ^ Bhadeshia, H. K. D. H.. The Superalloys. University of Cambridge. Retrieved on 2007-02-28.
  34. ^ Erik Oberg, et al., "Machinery's Handbook," 25th ed., Industrial Press Inc., 1996, p. 406.
  35. ^ Steel Construction Manual, 8th Edition, second revised edition, American Institute of Steel Construction, 1986, ch. 1 page 1-5
  36. ^ "Galvanic protection". Britannica. (2007). Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved on 2007-02-28. 
  37. ^
    • A. Raistrick, A Dynasty of Ironfounders (1953; York 1989)
    • C. K. Hyde, Technological Change and the British iron industry (Princeton 1977)
    • B. Trinder, The Industrial Revolution in Shropshire (Chichester 2000)
  38. ^ J.A.T. Jones, B. Bowman, P.A. Lefrank, Electric Furnace Steelmaking, in The Making, Shaping and Treating of Steel, R.J. Fruehan, Editor. 1998, The AISE Steel Foundation: Pittsburgh. p.525-660.
  39. ^ Ochshorn, Jonathan (2002-06-11). Steel in 20th Century Architecture. Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century Architecture. Retrieved on 2007-02-28.
  40. ^ "Materials science". Britannica. (2007). Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved on 2007-03-01. 

 Further reading

  • Duncan Burn; The Economic History of Steelmaking, 1867-1939: A Study in Competition. Cambridge University Press, 1961 online version
  • J. C. Carr and W. Taplin; History of the British Steel Industry Harvard University Press, 1962 online version
  • Gernet, Jacques (1982). A History of Chinese Civilization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Harukiyu Hasegawa; The Steel Industry in Japan: A Comparison with Britain 1996 online version
  • Needham, Joseph (1986). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 4, Part 1 & Part 3. Taipei: Caves Books, Ltd.
  • H. Lee Scamehorn; Mill & Mine: The Cf&I in the Twentieth Century University of Nebrasa Press, 1992 online version
  • Warren, Kenneth, Big Steel: The First Century of the United States Steel Corporation, 1901-2001. (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001) online review

 External links

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