Iron Ore

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.

Uses

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.

Industrial Applications

Spathic ore is used for the production of hydrogen by steam iron contact process. The ore to be used must have a spongy structure in order to present the maximum surface contact. Generally ore of light yellow colour is preferred. It should not sinter together when subjected to the high temperature of 1000ºC.

The ore is calcined before use to make it suitable for reduction and oxidation cycles. For the production of hydrogen, the calcined ore is first reduced at 700-1000ºC by use of water gas or producer gas. Steam is then passed over it. The ore gets oxidised and the hydrogen is liberated from the steam. The oxidised ore is then subjected to the reduction cycle by passing water gas which makes the ore suitable for reuse.

The arrangement for the process of oxidation and reduction cycle is made automatic in the plant to get the supply of commercial hydrogen which is utilised for the hydrogenation of vegetable oils. Hydrogenation effects hardening of the oils.

Micaceous iron ore is generally soft and unctuous. It is used in the manufacture of welding rods (electrodes). It is also used as a coating material in the preparation of welding rods. Bog iron ore is used as purifying and desulphurising material of producer gas and municipal gases. The ore is filled in purifying tank through which gases are passed and purified. Magnetite is used for the preparation of heavy media in coal-washing plants. It has got distinct advantage over sand as magnetite particles adhering to coal can easily be separated by the magnetic separator.

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