Lead (Pb) is the chemical element with atomic number 82 in the periodic table of the elements. It is a very special metal because it is very flexible and chemically reactive. Lead is found in abundance in the earth's crust but is rarely found in its elemental state. Most of the metal is extracted from underground mines.
There are more than 60 metals that can contain lead, but three are used to extract lead: galena, cerussite and anglesite. To extract lead from galena, furnaces are used where the ore is calcined and the oxide is reduced until lead sulphide is converted into lead oxide and sulphate. Several contaminants are released in this process, such as bismuth, arsenic, cadmium, silver, copper, gold and zinc. Its natural sources are the weathering of lead deposits, soil erosion and volcanic fumes.
Characteristics of lead
- It is a bluish-grey material.
- It is a heavy metal that has a relative density or specific gravity of 11.4 at 16 °C.
- It is flexible, inelastic and easy to melt.
- It melts at 327.4 °C and has a density of 11340 kg/m3.
- It has a high reactivity which means that it can be used in various compounds such as tetraethyl lead or lead silicates which are the most commonly used in industry.
- Lead is amphoteric as it creates lead salts from acids and metal salts from leadic acid.
- It is also a toxic metal. Lead poisoning is called saturnism.
Applications and uses
Lead forms alloys with many other metals. In fact, most of its applications are in this form. The most common alloys are those made from steel, aluminium, tin, copper and zinc. It has many applications in a wide variety of fields: batteries, taps, battery packs... The main use of lead is in the manufacture of batteries or rechargeable batteries.
50% of the lead obtained comes from the recycling of mostly car batteries. It can be reused indefinitely and when it is recycled it undergoes melting processes to make it liquid so that it can be transformed into new articles. Lead scrap is considered hazardous waste, which is why it is treated by authorised waste management companies. Recycling this metal requires up to 40% less energy than producing it as primary metal.
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