What is Zinc metal?
The name is derived from the German word “zinn” which means Tin.
It is a material that is a bluish-white, brittle metal that has been known to man for millennia. Even before it was extracted and produced on its own, it was recognised as a part of alloys such as Brass. It is the fourth most common metal in use (after Iron, Aluminium and Copper) and is extracted easily from concentrated ores. In nature, it is only found as a chemical compound, not as pure Zinc.
How is it made?
Zinc metal is found in the earth and extracted by mining. The scientific discovery of this material is credited to Andreas Sigismund Marggraf, a German chemist who isolated pure Zinc in 1746. Today, most of it is produced through the electrolysis of aqueous Zinc sulfate.
Zinc material uses
The most significant use of this material is an anticorrosion sacrificial layer, where it is applied to Iron or Steel as a coating, through the process of galvanization. This is because it is more reactive than either Iron or Steel and attracts almost all local oxidation towards itself until it completely corrodes away.
It is also the core ingredient for several widely used alloys. In the case of Brass, the addition of Zinc to Copper makes it stronger, more ductile and corrosion resistant. Alloys of Zinc with trace amounts of Copper, Aluminium and Magnesium are used in die-casting, especially for the automotive, electrical, and hardware industries.
It is usually a grey metallic colour, but one of its recognisable properties is that it can be polished to a shiny Silver luster. It usually tarnishes in moist air, producing a layer of carbonate. Another property is that it melts at 420°C and while it is brittle at ambient temperatures, is malleable at 100 to 150°C. It is a reasonable conductor of electricity. It is also a relatively heavy material and will sink in water.
Uses in everyday life
It is used in the manufacturing of some objects that are common in our everyday life. For example, the use of Zinc to galvanize automobile body parts has been increasing. Many vehicles today are protected by Zinc galvanizing which protects the body of the car from rust problems. Automobile makers also use the material die castings for emblems, moldings, door handles, and brackets. Zinc die castings can be easily chrome plated for durability and appearance.
As a compound, it is used in another range of everyday applications that are industrially produced. Zinc oxide is widely used as a white pigment in paints and as an additive to protect rubber polymers and plastics from UV light. On the other hand, Zinc sulfide is used in luminescent pigments such as on the hands of clocks, X-rays, television screens and luminous paints.