When you look at the periodic table, you’ll see blocks for several metallic elements. Copper, nickel, aluminum, iron, chromium… But you won’t see one for steel. Have you ever wondered why?
Unlike other metals, steel is not an element. It is an alloy of iron, meaning it is a combination of iron, carbon, and sometimes another element. Pure iron is generally too soft and reactive to be used for everyday purposes, but after adding even a tiny amount of carbon, it becomes strong and durable. While we tend to think of steel as its own metal, iron really deserves most of the credit, as some steel consists of more than 99 percent iron.
Essentially, steel is simply a sleeker, more versatile product of iron. Learn more about where steel comes from and the elements it contains.
Iron From the Earth’s Crust
After aluminum, iron is the most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust. The iron that is mined from underground, however, is never pure iron. Because the element reacts so easily with oxygen, it is almost always extracted as an iron oxide. Beneath the Earth’s crust, iron oxide exists as a rocky ore, which must be melted down to get back to its pure form. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, about 1000 million pounds of iron are extracted from the ground each year, throughout the entire world. The United State only accounts for about 3 percent of this production, while China is responsible for more than 60 percent of it.
Iron + Other Elements = Steel
By adding different amounts carbon and other elements to iron, we have created thousands of different types of metal. Here are some of the most common types of iron alloys, which we know as steel:
Carbon steel: This is the most basic form of steel, containing only iron and a small amount of carbon. More than 80 percent of the steel produced every day is carbon steel.
Stainless steel: In addition to carbon, stainless steel contains chromium and nickel. These elements are what make stainless steel so resistant to corrosion.
Tool steel: Elements like nickel, tungsten, and molybdenum are combined with iron and carbon to make some of the strongest steel of all.
Alloy steel: The combinations of elements that can be used to make steel are endless. In addition to the ones previously mentioned, elements such as manganese, copper, vanadium, and silicon can be used to make harder, more durable and more corrosion resistant steels.
Get the Right Steel for Your Next Project at Tampa Steel and Supply!
Now that you know where steel comes from and which elements compose it, you’re ready to begin your next building project with this durable and versatile iron alloy. For all of your metal and steel needs… look to Tampa Steel & Supply. Give us a call today to learn more about our high quality products.