The Origins of Steel and Metal on the Earth

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The Origins of Steel and Metal on the Earth

origins steel metal earth

While there are many people out there who just want to get the job done and not worry much about other details, there are also those who want to learn more about the kinds of products, elements and other things they work with on a regular basis. For anyone who utilizes steel or other forms of metal on a regular basis, this curiosity sometimes leads to a common area: The origins of metal within our world, and how metal makes its way from its original locations to the kinds of products we use it for today.

At Wasatch Steel, we’re happy to offer a huge variety of steel products, from abrasives and cutting tools to steel sheet and other formable materials. But we also care a lot about the origins of our products and how the earth provides us with an incredible wealth of useful metals. For those who share this curiosity and general interest, here’s a rundown of how and where metal originates, plus some simple basics on how metal is extracted from the earth and manufactured into metal products you utilize.

Metals Vs Non-Metals and Metalloids

Firstly, before we even dig into the origins of metal, let’s define what makes up a “metal” to begin with. Specifically, metals have several physical properties that separate them from non-metals. They’re generally good conductors of heat and electricity, have a relatively high density and are malleable and ductile. Many metals are also lustrous, meaning they have a shiny appearance. Finally, with the exception of mercury (which is liquid at room temperature), metals are all solids at standard temperatures and pressures.

However, another key quality of metals is that while they naturally rest at solid states, they can be melted and cast into different shapes when heated to high enough temperatures. This is where the process of smelting comes in, which we’ll touch on more later. But for now, it’s important to note that this trait separates metals from non-metals, which tend to either vaporize or sublime (change states directly from solid to gas) when heated past their solid state points.

Metal’s Origins

One of the most fascinating areas surrounding metal is where it originates from — a conversation that takes us billions of years into the past, when the earth was first created. When the universe first appeared and the earth was formed during the Big Bang, dust and gas particles began to coalesce and form our planet.

As the earth continued to cool down, these particles combined further to create rocks, minerals and other materials that we see today. The elements that make up metal are no different, with iron being one of the most abundant metals found on earth. In fact, iron makes up a significant portion of the earth’s core, which is one of the main reasons why it’s such a prevalent metal on our planet.

Other key metals like aluminum and copper also have interesting origins. For example, aluminum wasn’t discovered until the early 1800s, even though it’s the third most abundant element on earth (behind oxygen and silicon). The reason for this is that aluminum is so reactive that it wasn’t until scientists found a way to extract it from other materials that it could be utilized in its pure form.

As for copper, this metal has been in use by humans for over 10,000 years and is thought to be one of the first metals ever utilized by our ancient ancestors. This is likely due to the fact that copper is found in a relatively pure state in nature, which made it easy to extract and work with compared to other metals.

The Smelting Process

Now that we know a bit more about where metal comes from, let’s move on to how it’s extracted from the earth and turned into useful products. The process of extracting metal from ore (a rock that contains a high concentration of a certain mineral) is known as smelting, and it has been used by humans for millennia to extract useful metals like steel, iron, copper and aluminum.

The basic process of smelting involves heating the ore to high temperatures in order to separate out the metal content. For example, iron ore is usually smelted in a blast furnace at temperatures of around 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit. This high temperature separates the metal from other impurities in the rock, and the molten metal can then be poured into molds to solidify and create useful objects like steel beams or pipes.

Of course, smelting is a complex process that involves a number of different steps and chemicals, but this is the basic idea behind how most metals are extracted from their ore and turned into useful products.

Alloy Manufacturing

Another key aspect of metal that we need to touch on is alloy manufacturing. An alloy is simply a mixture of two or more metals, and they’re often created in order to improve upon the properties of a certain metal. For example, steel is an alloy that’s made by combining iron with carbon, and this combination creates a much stronger and more durable metal than iron alone.

Alloys are created by mixing together the desired metals in a certain proportion, and this mixture is then heated and cooled in order to create a solid solution. The exact process will vary depending on the metals being used, but this is the basic idea behind how most alloys are made.

There are tens of thousands of different alloys in existence today, and new ones are being created all the time. This is a fascinating area of study for those who are interested in learning more about how different metals can be combined to create new materials with unique properties.

For more on how metals originate and are made, or to learn about any of our steel products or services, speak to the experts at Wasatch Steel at your nearest convenience!