Essay: Iron and its many uses in the world

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  • Iron and its many uses in the world
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Iron exists in all living organism as an irreplaceable dietary, needed for making hemoglobin in human and animal body. Iron is an important material that made up the needed appliances for our daily life. We can find iron and its alloy in skyscrapers, buildings, houses, tools, and many machineries. According to the Encyclopedia of Science, iron is the fourth most abundant element on Earth, consulting more than 35 percent of the whole planet and cover five percent of the Earth surface. The atomic number of iron on the periodic table is 26, belongs to the transition metal group, with an atomic mass of 55.993 amu. Its symbol, Fe, come from the Latin word Ferrum. An iron atom is consists of 26 protons, 26 electrons. Iron have four natural isotopes: Fe-54, Fe-56, Fe-57, Fe-58 and 24 radioactive isotopes. Iron ores can be found on or beneath the Earth surface. To be usable, iron ores need to have at least 30 percent iron content. Any ore that consists of 70 percent iron is considered pure, high quality and rare. The color of ores depend in its content. The most common and richest iron ore in the world are hematite and magnetite. Both of these are different form of iron oxide. Hematite (Fe2O3) is usually composed of 70 percent iron, while magnetite (Fe3O4) have about 60 percent. Iron was believed to be discovered around 5000 to 3000 B.C. Since then the making and using of iron have been developed widely and applied to many field. (Nichelson. Salem Press Encyclopedia of Science)

Iron itself is not the top quality material. Pure iron does not sustain well in tough environment nor does it come with high durability, but instead wear out fast in high pressure and the oxidation caused by weather. Therefore, a combination of iron and other element, iron alloy, was used to surmount these defects in qualities. Iron’s most widely used alloy are steel, wrought iron and cast iron. Steel consists mostly of iron and other elements such as carbon, chromium, and nickel. Wrought iron is almost pure iron, with an insignificant amount of carbon. Steel contains from 0.25 to 0.15 percent carbon, while the carbon in cast iron range from 2 to 4.5 percent. These combinations aim to raise the durable and quality of the material to perform efficiently under certain condition such as under extreme high temperature and pressure, electrical resistance, or corrosion resistance. Iron and its alloys are not only the cheapest materials but they also come with high qualities, more sustainable. Today railroad, which is made mainly of steel, is tougher, not getting deformed from high friction and pressure like before. Iron is not a perfect material but the development of quality in iron alloys is recognizable and will be progressing even more. Not only the material content, but the technology in making iron had developed rapidly over the past centuries. From the basic bloomery method, which was low in product quantity in the middle aged, the industrialists had developed methods that is more efficient, less time wasting: the blast furnace with oxygen steelmaking and mini mill with electric furnace. Due to a huge amount of supply, advancing technologies and a wide range of demand, the steel industry has become one of the most blooming industry in the material providing field over the last centuries. Steel’s market price is lower than most material, high durability and quality made it one of the most widely used material for construction and other operation.

The process of making steel involved carbon and oxygen which undoubtedly lead to a large amount of CO2 emission. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, nearly two tonnes of carbon dioxide is produced for every tonne of steel. The industry alone takes up five percent of the world\’s greenhouse gases emission. The industry had made many effort in reducing the emission of carbon dioxide. However, the goal of a carbon dioxide-free method is a global challenge that need more development and research. Many experiments are done by researchers around the world to solve this problem. The researchers at MIT are testing methods that could result in only oxygen emission and carbon-free production of steel. However the ingredient which they used, iridium, is not fit for the mass production of steel, since this is a limited and expensive material. After multiple tests and experiments they found a material that can replace iridium. Even though this problem is solved, the path to a process of a carbon-free steel making production is still far away.

Despite the carbon dioxide emission, iron, and its alloy is known as a 100 percent recyclable green material. Steel can be recycled over and over without losing its qualities. Steel is reused and remanufactured over and over again. In 2015, Turkey is the largest steel scrap importer in the world with 16,521 millions tonnes and America is the largest steel scrap exporters with 12,976 million tonnes. The realization in this characteristics of steel and iron alloys in general made it the most recommended material for an eco-friendly environment.

China is the world leader iron and steel producer in the world. China steel consumption and production alone holds more than half of the world steel production in these recent years. This flood of supply, together with the huge sources of materials cause the occurrence of an economic problem. When the amount of supply and demand is unbalance, it cause the material market price to drop. Over the last decades iron price have decreased rapidly. According the London Metal Exchange, their database shows that in 2008, steel billet price is over 1000 USD per tonne. However, in 2016, one tonne of steel only worth about 300 USD. Many high cost producers have to lower the price and facing the risk of closing their furnaces. The newspaper the Economists have raisen a question: Is there too much iron in the world? They made a good point in bringing up the oversupply of steel in the world. However, they did not show any acknowledgement in the demand. Iron and its alloy can be applied in anything from constructions, machineries, to even medical application. Many countries right now doesn’t even have efficient railroad or proper houses. With scrap steel, being one of the cheapest green material and in this period when the world is heading toward an eco-friendly living environment, the application of steel scrap can be applied almost anywhere. Therefore, more potential uses of iron need to be found and approached.

Iron is the most widely used metal in the world. It has been developed for centuries and has improved significantly to reach its qualities and a wide range of varieties in alloys like today. There are many concerned around the effect of iron production on the environment. However, with the apply of science and advancing technology, an even more promising future in a eco-friendly environment for this material is guaranteed.

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