What are "ores"?

An ore is any naturally-occurring source of a metal that you can
economically extract the metal from.
Aluminium, for example, is the most common metal in the Earth's crust,
occurring in all sorts of minerals. However, it isn't economically worthwhile
to extract it from most of these minerals. Instead, the usual ore of
aluminium is bauxite - which contains from 50 - 70% of aluminium oxide

Concentrating the ore
This simply means getting rid of as much of the unwanted rocky material as
possible before the ore is converted into the metal.
In some cases this is done chemically. For example, pure aluminium oxide
is obtained from bauxite by a process involving a reaction with sodium
hydroxide solution. This is described in detail on the aluminium page in this
Some copper ores can be converted into copper(II) sulphate solution by
leaving the crushed ore in contact with dilute sulphuric acid for a long time.
Copper can then be extracted from the copper(II) sulphate solution.
But, in many cases, it is possible to separate the metal compound from
unwanted rocky material by physical means. A common example of this
involves froth flotation.
Froth flotation
The ore is first crushed and then treated with something which will bind to
the particles of the metal compound that you want and make those
particles hydrophobic. "Hydrophobic" literally means "water fearing".
In concentrating copper ores, for example, pine oil is often used. The pine
oil binds to the copper compounds, but not to the unwanted rocky material.
The treated ore is then put in a large bath of water containing a foaming
agent (a soap or detergent of some kind), and air is blown through the
mixture to make a lot of bubbles.
Because they are water-repellent, the coated particles of the metal
compound tend to be picked up by the air bubbles, float to the top of the
bath, and are allowed to flow out over the sides.

The rest of the rocky material stays in the bath.

Reducing the metal compound to the metal
Why is this reduction?
At its simplest, where you are starting from metal oxides, the ore is being
reduced because oxygen is being removed.

However, if you are starting with a sulphide ore, for example, that's not a lot
of help!
It is much more helpful to use the definition of reduction in terms of addition
of electrons.
To a reasonable approximation, you can think of these ores as containing
positive metal ions. To convert them to the metal, you need to add
electrons - reduction.

Choosing a method of reduction
There are various economic factors you need to think about in choosing a
method of reduction for a particular ore. These are all covered in detail on
other pages in this section under the extractions of particular metals. What
follows is a quick summary.

You need to consider:
 the cost of the reducing agent;
 energy costs;
 the desired purity of the metal.
There may be various environmental considerations as well - some of
which will have economic costs.

Carbon reduction
Carbon (as coke or charcoal) is cheap. It not only acts as a reducing agent,
but it also acts as the fuel to provide heat for the process.
However, in some cases (for example with aluminium) the temperature
needed for carbon reduction is too high to be economic - so a different
method has to be used.
Carbon may also be left in the metal as an impurity. Sometimes this can be
removed afterwards (for example, in the extraction of iron); sometimes it
can't (for example in producing titanium), and a different method would
have to be used in cases like this.


This page looks at the use of the Blast Furnace in the extraction of iron from iron ore,
and the conversion of the raw iron from the furnace into various kinds of steel.

Extracting iron from iron ore using a Blast Furnace
The common ores of iron are both iron oxides, and these can be reduced to iron by
heating them with carbon in the form of coke. Coke is produced by heating coal in
the absence of air.

Coke is cheap and provides both the reducing agent for the reaction and also the
heat source - as you will see below.
Iron ores
The most commonly used iron ores are haematite (US: hematite), Fe
and magnetite, Fe
The Blast Furnace

The heat source
The air blown into the bottom of the furnace is heated using the hot waste
gases from the top. Heat energy is valuable, and it is important not to waste
The coke (essentially impure carbon) burns in the blast of hot air to form
carbon dioxide - a strongly exothermic reaction. This reaction is the main
source of heat in the furnace.

The reduction of the ore

At the high temperature at the bottom of the furnace, carbon dioxide reacts
with carbon to produce carbon monoxide.

It is the carbon monoxide which is the main reducing agent in the furnace.

In the hotter parts of the furnace, the carbon itself also acts as a reducing
agent. Notice that at these temperatures, the other product of the reaction
is carbon monoxide, not carbon dioxide.

The temperature of the furnace is hot enough to melt the iron which trickles
down to the bottom where it can be tapped off.

The function of the limestone
Iron ore isn't pure iron oxide - it also contains an assortment of rocky
material. This wouldn't melt at the temperature of the furnace, and would
eventually clog it up. The limestone is added to convert this into slag which
melts and runs to the bottom.
The heat of the furnace decomposes the limestone to give calcium oxide.

This is an endothermic reaction, absorbing heat from the furnace. It is
therefore important not to add too much limestone because it would
otherwise cool the furnace.
Calcium oxide is a basic oxide and reacts with acidic oxides such as silicon
dioxide present in the rock. Calcium oxide reacts with silicon dioxide to give
calcium silicate.

The calcium silicate melts and runs down through the furnace to form a
layer on top of the molten iron. It can be tapped off from time to time as

Slag is used in road making and as "slag cement" - a final ground slag
which can be used in cement, often mixed with Portland cement.

Cast iron
The molten iron from the bottom of the furnace can be used ascast iron.
Cast iron is very runny when it is molten and doesn't shrink much when it
solidifies. It is therefore ideal for making castings - hence its name.
However, it is very impure, containing about 4% of carbon. This carbon
makes it very hard, but also very brittle. If you hit it hard, it tends to shatter
rather than bend or dent.
Cast iron is used for things like manhole covers, guttering and drainpipes,
cylinder blocks in car engines, Aga-type cookers, and very expensive and
very heavy cookware.
Most of the molten iron from a Blast Furnace is used to make one of a number of
types of steel. There isn't just one substance called steel - they are a family of alloys
of iron with carbon or various metals. More about this later . . .

Steel-making: the basic oxygen process
Impurities in the iron from the Blast Furnace include carbon, sulphur, phosphorus
and silicon. These have to be removed.
Removal of sulphur
Sulphur has to be removed first in a separate process.Magnesium powder is blown
through the molten iron and the sulphur reacts with it to form magnesium sulphide.
This forms a slag on top of the iron and can be removed.

Removal of carbon etc
The still impure molten iron is mixed with scrap iron (from recycling) and oxygen is
blown on to the mixture. The oxygen reacts with the remaining impurities to form
various oxides.
The carbon forms carbon monoxide. Since this is a gas it removes itself from the
iron! This carbon monoxide can be cleaned and used as a fuel gas.

Elements like phosphorus and silicon react with the oxygen to form acidic oxides.
These are removed using quicklime (calcium oxide) which is added to the furnace
during the oxygen blow. They react to form compounds such as calcium silicate or
calcium phosphate which form a slag on top of the iron.

Types of iron and steel
Cast iron has already been mentioned above. This section deals with the types of
iron and steel which are produced as a result of the steel-making process.
Wrought iron
If all the carbon is removed from the iron to give high purity iron, it is known as
wrought iron. Wrought iron is quite soft and easily worked and has little structural
strength. It was once used to make decorative gates and railings, but these days
mild steel is normally used instead.
Mild steel
Mild steel is iron containing up to about 0.25% of carbon. The presence of the
carbon makes the steel stronger and harder than pure iron. The higher the
percentage of carbon, the harder the steel becomes.
Mild steel is used for lots of things - nails, wire, car bodies, ship building, girders and
bridges amongst others.
High carbon steel
High carbon steel contains up to about 1.5% of carbon. The presence of the extra
carbon makes it very hard, but it also makes it more brittle. High carbon steel is used
for cutting tools and masonry nails (nails designed to be driven into concrete blocks
or brickwork without bending). You have to be careful with high carbon steel because
it tends to fracture rather than bend if you mistreat it.

Special steels
These are iron alloyed with other metals. For example:

iron mixed
uses include
and nickel
resists corrosion
cutlery, cooking utensils, kitchen
sinks, industrial equipment for
food and drink processing
withstands high
gas turbines, spacecraft
manganese very hard
rock-breaking machinery, some
railway track (e.g. points),
military helmets

23.3 Hydrometallurgy
 Hydrometallurgy is the extraction of metals from
ores using water. These processes are usually
more energy efficient than pyrometallurical
 Leaching is the selective dissolution of the
desired mineral.
 Typical leaching agents are dilute acids, bases,
salts, and sometimes water.

3.4 Electrometallurgy
Electrometallurgy of Sodium
 Electrometallurgy is the process of obtaining
metals through electrolysis.
 Two different starting materials: molten salt or
aqueous solution.
 Sodium is produced by electrolysis of molten
NaCl in a Downs cell.
 CaCl2 is used to lower the melting point of NaCl
from 804?C to 600?C.
 An iron screen is used to separate Na and Cl (so
that NaCl is not re-formed).

Pyrometallurgy uses processes at high
temperatures to obtain the free metal.
 Several steps are employed:
Calcination is heating of ore to cause decomposition and
elimination of a volatile product:
PbCO3(s) ? PbO(s) + CO2(g)

Roasting is heating which causes chemical reactions between
the ore and the furnace atmosphere:
2ZnS(s) + 3O2(g) ? 2ZnO(s) + 2SO2(g)
2MoS2(s) + 7O2(g) ? 2MoO3(s) + 4SO2(g)
Smelting is a melting process that causes materials to separate
into two or more layers.

 Slag consists mostly of molten silicates in addition to aluminates,
phosphates, fluorides, and other inorganic materials.
 Refining is the process during which a crude, impure metal is
converted into a pure metal.

 Most important sources of iron are hematite
Fe2O3 and magnetite Fe3O4.
 Reduction occurs in a blast furnace.
 The ore, limestone and coke are added to the
top of the blast furnace.
 Coke is coal that has been heated to drive off
the volatile components.
 Coke reacts with oxygen to form CO (the
reducing agent):
2C(s) + O2(g) ? 2CO(g) ?H = -221 kJ
 CO is also produced by the reaction of water
vapor in the air with C:
C(s) + H2O(g) ? CO(g) + H2(g) ?H = +131 kJ
 Since this reaction is endothermic, if the blast
furnace gets too hot, water vapor is added to
cool it down without interrupting the chemistry.
 At around 250?C limestone is calcined (heated
to decomposition and elimination of volatiles).

 Also around 250?C iron oxides are reduced by
Fe3O4(s) + 4CO(g) ? 3Fe(s) + 4CO2(g) ?H = -15
Fe3O4(s) + 4H2(g) ? 3Fe(s) + 4H2O(g) ?H = +150
 Molten iron is produced lower down the furnace
and removed at the bottom.
 Slag (molten silicate materials) is removed from
above the molten iron.
 If iron is going to be made into steel it is poured
directly into a basic oxygen furnace.
 The molten iron is converted to steel, an alloy of
 To remove impurities, O2 is blown through the
molten mixture.
 The oxygen oxidizes the impurities.

Definition: The process of subjecting absorptive mineral
to prolonged heating at fairly high temperature, resulting
in the removal of water, and an increase in the hardness,
physical stability and absorbent properties of the material.

Calcination of limestone
A process for the continuous production of a calcined product containing a high level of
reactive oxide valves, from a preheated raw material containing calcium carbonate values,
said process comprising,
(a) introducing the preheated raw material to the bottom of a generally vertically oriented gas
suspension calcining furnace, whereby said preheated raw material is thereafter suspended in
an ascending stream of heated gas to thereby pass vertically upwardly through the gas
suspension calcining furnace;
(b) passing the ascending gas stream through a plurality of burners, into which fuel and air
are injected, that are vertically spaced from each other, in the gas suspension furnace, at a
number of levels in the flow direction of the heated gas, and
(c) collecting the calcin

Examples of chemical decomposition reactions common in calcination processes, and their
respective thermal decomposition temperatures include:
 CaCO
= CaO + CO
; 848°C

Definition: A process in metallurgy in which a sulfide ore
is heated in air. The process may convert a metal sulfide to
a metal oxide or to a free metal.
Example- Roasting ZnS may yield ZnO; roasting HgS may yield free Hg metal. ed product.
Roasting of sulphide ores-
A method for roasting sulphide ores or ore concentrates containing precious metals is
practiced in a furnace, typically in a fluidized bed. The ore and a sulphur-binding lime-
containing material are supplied to a roasting furnace in which the ore is roasted with the
emission of heat and sulphur dioxide. The lime-containing material--such as calcium
hydroxide--is mixed into the cooling water for the roasting furnace and sprayed into the
furnace as a lime-containing aqueous slurry. Roasting occurs at about 600-850° C. (e.g. 650-
750° C.).
Roasted material is discharged from the furnace and acted upon to recover gold, silver and
copper metal.

Mined ores are processed to concentrate the
minerals of interest. In the case of metal ores,
these mineral concentrates usually need to be
further processed to separate the metal from
other elements in the ore minerals. Smelting is
the process of separating the metal from
impurities by heating the concentrate to a high
temperature to cause the metal to melt. Smelting
the concentrate produces a metal or a high-
grade metallic mixture along with a solid waste
product called slag.

Smelting of iron

+ 3C = 4Fe + 3CO