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Extraction of Metals and


Extraction of metals
Metals occur in nature as ores which are
combinations of metals with other
Metals are extracted from their ores in
three steps - concentration of ores,
extraction of metals from ores and refining
the crude metal to get the pure metal.
Concentration of ores involves removing
the earth, sand, stones etc which are
unwanted materials.

Extraction of metal from ores can be

carried out in two ways
(i) by using electricity to break up the molten
ore to metal and other products.
(ii) by heating the ore with carbon to reduce the
metal oxide to metal

The position of the metal in the reactivity

series helps to select the method for its
The more reactive the metal is, the
harder it is to extract it from its ore.

Reactive metals at the top of the series

such as potassium, sodium, calcium
and magnesium form compounds (ores)
which are very difficult to split into their
elements. These metals cannot be
extracted by heating their oxides with
carbon. They are extracted by using
electricity (electrolysis) to break up their

The metals lower in the reactivity series are

not very reactive. They can be extracted by
heating the ores containing metal oxides with

Most reactive

Least reactive


extracted by using
electricity to break up
the metal compounds
in molten ores


extracted by heating
its oxides with carbon
(to reduce the metal
oxides to metal)


found naturally as the

uncombined element

Extraction of iron from

Haematite - using Blast furnace
Haematite is the main ore of iron and
contains iron(III) oxide mixed with
impurities such as clay and sand.
A blast furnace is used to extract iron from

Iron ore (haematite), coke (carbon) and

limestone (calcium carbonate) are added
from the top of the furnace. Limestone is
required for removing the impurites like
sand and clay.
Hot air is blown into the furnace from the
Impurities in the iron ore form a compound
called slag which flows out of a tap at the
bottom of the furnace.
Molten iron flows out from another tap at
the bottom of the furnace.

Chemical reactions that take place

in the blast furnace
1. Formation of carbon dioxide from coke
Carbon in coke burns in hot air to produce
carbon dioxide and a lot of heat.
carbon + oxygen
C(s) + O2(g)

carbon dioxide

2. Formation of calcium oxide from limestone

Limestone (calcium carbonate) is
decomposed by heat to give calcium oxide
(quicklime) and carbon dioxide.
calcium carbonate
calcium oxide + carbon

CaO(s) + CO2(g)

3. Formation of carbon monoxide from

carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide moves up and reacts with
more coke to form carbon monoxide.
carbon + carbon dioxide

carbon monoxide


C(s) + CO2(g)


4. Reaction of carbon monoxide with Iron (III)

Oxide to produce iron
Carbon monoxide reacts with iron(III) oxide
in haematite and reduces it to iron by
removing the oxygen from iron(III) oxide. The
molten iron runs out at the bottom of the
furnace through a tap. Hot waste gases
containing carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide
and nitrogen leave from the top of the

iron(III) oxide + carbon monoxide

Fe2O3(s) + 3CO

molten + carbon
iron dioxide

2Fe(l) + 3CO2(g)

5. Removal of impurities as slag

lmpurities like sand and clay are mainly
silicon(lV) oxides. They react with calcium
oxide to form a molten slag which is
calcium silicate. The slag is lighter than
molten iron and floats on top. Both are
tapped off separately at the bottom of the
calcium oxide + silicon(lV) oxide

calcium silicate (slag)


CaO(s) + SiO2(s)


Rusting or corrosion of iron

When iron is exposed to moisture and air
for sometime, it reacts to form a hydrated
iron(IIl) oxide which is known as rust. lt is
found as a reddish brown substance on
the surface of the iron metal. This type of
reaction is known as oxidation since iron
metal is oxidised to iron(III) oxide.

The rusting of iron in the presence of air

and moisture can be represented by the
chemical equation,
iron + water + oxygen
hydrated iron(lll) oxide(rust)
4Fe(s) + 3O2(g) + 2xH2O(l)

From experiments done by chemists,

evidence shows that
(a)both oxygen(air) and water are required
for rusting.
(b)presence of salt (sodium chloride) speeds
up the rate of rusting.
(c)rust can be prevented by using a
protective layer of substances such as oil.
The protective layer prevents the air and
moisture from coming into contact with
the surface of iron.

The various methods used for preventing

rust are shown in the table below.


Method to prevent rust


Uses (examples)
moving parts in
machines and
large objects like
cars and ships
plastic coating
cloth hangers,
wire racks etc
coating with a film of zinc
kitchen sinks,
buckets etc
coating with a film of tin (which food cans
is a less reactive metal)

In addition to salt, other substances also

can increase the speed of rusting. For
example, rusting is faster in industrial
areas because acidic substances such as
carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide speed
up the rate of rusting.

Recycling of metals
Metals are finite resources because the
amount of metals available on earth are
As the natural resources of metals get
used up, the supply of some metals,
especially lead and tin, becomes much
less. Hence, there is a need to recover the
metals by recycling.

For example, old metal objects can be

crushed, melted and purified before
Aluminium can be recycled from cans and
food containers.
Large amounts of iron and steel can be
recycled from scrap metal.
Lead can be recovered from car batteries.

Environmental issues of recycling

Advantages of recycling are:
Pollution to the environment can be reduced
by using recycled metals. Air pollution, water
pollution and water usage are much less
compared to the extraction from ores.
Big unsightly piles of dumped metals can be
avoided, reducing the need for land refills.

Recycling metals ensures that the mineral

ores are conserved and will last longer.
Recycling metals like aluminium can save a
lot of energy and cost when compared to
extracting them from the metal ores.

Economic issues of recycling

A disadvantage of recycling is that recycling
can be costly because
Different scrap metals have to be sorted out
and cleaned before recycling.
The scrap metals have to be transported to the
processing plant.

Social issues of recycling

Extraction of metals from ores as well as
recycling metals produce waste products, but
recycling can reduce the amount of such wastes
and help to maintain a cleaner environment for
people to live in.
Increasing human population requires more land
for agriculture and housing. Recycling can make
more land available for these needs.
However, recycling has to be made more costeffective and economical and every one needs
to play an important role by conserving our
natural resources and avoiding wastage.

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