How is iron mined? Iron is the most commonly used metal, employed in the construction of automobiles and buildings. Five percent of the earth's crust is made of iron, but before iron can be used, it must be mined from the earth and processed. While the process of mining this most valuable of commodities is anything but simple, it has been honed and made efficient through multiple years of practice.
Iron is extracted from rocks and minerals collectively known as iron ore. There are approximately 800 billion tons of iron ore resources in the world, with 230 billion tons of potential iron contained within. Small areas with dense clusters of iron ore are broken up by machines that dig an enormous pit before mining.
A large portion of mined iron ore is ultimately used for steel. However, the mining process doesn't stop with extracting the ore. Iron ore must be mixed with other elements before it can be turned into steel proper.
Iron ore must go through a smelting process. Smelting involves the melting of ore by exposing it to continuous high levels of heat while mixing it with coke and limestone. The melting extracts iron from other molecules and components that would affect its solidity, and this process is often done at temperatures in excess of 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
After being smelted in the blast furnace, the ore becomes a chemical-laden soup, and the isolated iron must be separated from the impurities, such as phosphorous or sulfur. Thanks to the limestone, the impurities conveniently rise to the top of the cooked soup, and they are removed to uncover the purified iron at the bottom. This pure, isolated iron can be dried into cakes, which are shaped for use as steel or in other forms. Also, tungsten, manganese and nickel are all used to stiffen ore, making it even stronger.
Rare is the day that we don't rely on steel, which is why iron mining is crucial to industry and why iron is so valuable as a commodity. Without iron mining, our daily lives would be much more difficult.