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Magnesium (Mg) is the chemical element with atomic number 12 in the periodic table of the elements. It is the eighth most abundant element in the earth’s crust and the third most abundant element dissolved in the sea. The pure metal cannot be found in nature, it forms part of compounds mostly oxides and salts. It can be found in rock minerals such as dolomite, serpentine, olivine or magnesite. It is insoluble. The magnesium ion is essential for all living cells. Once it is produced from magnesium salts, it is used as an alloying element.

Magnesium can be obtained by electrolysis or thermal reduction. However, the Dow process is the most important and economical magnesium production process. In this process, seawater is used as raw material, which must be warm, clean and undiluted. The steps in the Dow process are as follows: decantation, filtration, neutralisation, evaporation, drying and electrolysis.

The countries that contain the most magnesium are Russia, China and South Korea.

Characteristics of magnesium

  • Magnesium is silvery white and very light.
  • It does not need to be stored in oxygen-free environments like other alkali metals because it is protected by a thin oxide layer.
  • Its melting point is 650 °C and it has a density of 1738 kg/m3.
  • It is a very flammable metal, it combusts very easily when it is in chips or powder, however, in solid mass it is less flammable. 
  • Because it is rigid, has low plasticity, low density and is protected from corrosion, it is ideal for use in alloys with other metals.

The main alloys are made with aluminum, manganese, zirconium, or zinc. However, its main use is as an alloy for aluminium and is used in automotive components. In addition, high-purity magnesium alloys have better corrosion resistance than steel and most aluminium alloys.

Magnesium recycling

Magnesium is a material that can be recycled without loss of quality. The process needed to recycle it consumes only 5% of the energy needed to obtain the raw material.

As it is easy to oxidise, the recycling process is very demanding and therefore not widely used. The most common process for producing magnesium alloy is die casting. The rejects from the process are almost all recycled by recycling in the production process. Magnesium chips and slag can be recycled through a complex process. A closed-loop recycling system would reduce the need for primary material by half.

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