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Chronology of the Iron and Steel Industry : Key

Iron and Steel

 

 

20th Century Iron and Steel Production

Iron is the fourth most common metal in the earth's crust. It makes up 5% of its weight. Iron occurs naturally in a variety of ores in sedimentary rocks:

Ore

Chemical Name

iron pyrites (or fool's gold)

iron II sulphide

heamatite

iron III oxide

limonite or goetite ("bog ore")

hydrated iron oxide (same composition as rust)

magnetite

iron II oxide and iron III oxide

ironstone

iron II carbonate

Iron pyrites, or fool's gold, cannot be used to make iron because of its high sulphur content which makes the iron too brittle.

Although the early iron industry used "bog ore" to obtain iron, ironstone is the most common iron ore and it is extracted from open cast (surface) sites in England, from the River Humber to the River Severn.

To obtain iron from ironstone the ore is first roasted with coal. This process is called sintering. Sintering drives off impurities, such as water, carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and arsenic compounds. It leaves a sinter which is mainly granules of magnetite (an oxide of iron).

The magnetite is then reduced in the blast furnace. The sinter is mixed with high grade coke and limestone (calcium carbonate). Hot air at 2 atmospheres pressure, is blasted into the furnace, creating temperatures of up to 1900°C. The iron ore reacts with carbon monoxide in a reduction reaction producing iron and carbon dioxide. Any impurities fuse with the limestone to form a sludge which sinks to the bottom of the furnace. The molten iron, known as pig iron, lies on top of the sludge and can be run off. If the pig iron is re-melted and poured into moulds, it sets as cast iron.

Cast iron is brittle which makes it impractical for some uses. However, it does have a high compression strength and can be heated with air and hammered to produce wrought iron. Hammering cast iron into wrought iron was a long process.

To be converted into steel, the pig iron has to be melted in the presence of oxygen to remove any remaining impurities. Then an alloy of iron, manganese and carbon, is added. The result is a tremendous display of explosive sparks which shoot out of the converter. The carbon converts the iron into steel. High carbon steels are extremely strong and durable.

HISTORY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

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Chronology of the Iron and Steel Industry
1709 - 1879

1700

Abraham Darby used coke to make pig iron at Coalbrookdale to make pig iron

1709's

1740

Benjamin Huntsman "rediscovered" steel.

1740's

1750

The first iron rolling mill (to make wrought iron) was opened at Foreham, Hampshire.

1754's

1760

Darby laid an iron plateway

1760's

Matthew Boulton established an ironworks, using coke as the fuel, in Birmingham.

1762's

The iron industry was centred around Merthyr, in the heart of the Welsh coalfields.

1765's

1770

Iron had replaced wood as the material for making industrial machines.

1770's

Wilkinson bored cylinders for Watt's engine

1775's

Abraham Darby III built the first iron bridge at Coalbrookdale.

1779's

1780

Henry Cort invented a new and improved method to produce wrought iron. He also developed a new way of making wrought iron railings.

1783's

1820

James Beaumont Neilson improved the blast furnace construction.

1828's

1850

Henry Bessemer developed the "basic oxygen converter" to make steel.

1856's

1870

Britain was producing 60 times as much pig iron as in 1800.

1870's

Percy Gilchrist and S.G. Thomas adapted Bessemer's process to suit phosphoric ores.

1879's

 

 

 

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