Iron is the most widely used of all the metals, accounting for 95% of worldwide metal production. Its low cost and high strength make it indispensable in engineering applications such as the construction of machinery and machine tools, automobiles, the hulls of large ships, and structural components for buildings. Since pure iron is quite soft, it is most commonly used in the form of steel.
Commercially available iron is classified based on purity and the abundance of additives. Pig iron has 3.5–4.5% carbon and contains varying amounts of contaminants such as sulfur, silicon and phosphorus. Pig iron is not a saleable product, but rather an intermediate step in the production of cast iron and steel from iron ore. Cast iron contains 2–4% carbon, 1–6% silicon, and small amounts of manganese. Contaminants present in pig iron that negatively affect material properties, such as sulfur and phosphorus, have been reduced to an acceptable level. It has a melting point in the range of 1420–1470 K, which is lower than either of its two main components, and makes it the first product to be melted when carbon and iron are heated together. Its mechanical properties vary greatly, dependent upon the form carbon takes in the alloy.
“White” cast irons contain their carbon in the form of cementite, or iron carbide. This hard, brittle compound dominates the mechanical properties of white cast irons, rendering them hard, but unresistant to shock. The broken surface of a white cast iron is full of fine facets of the broken carbide, a very pale, silvery, shiny material, hence the appellation.
Apart from traditional applications, iron is also used for protection from ionizing radiation. Although it is lighter than another traditional protection material, lead, it is much stronger mechanically. The attenuation of radiation as a function of energy is shown in the graph.
The main disadvantage of iron and steel is that pure iron, and most of its alloys, suffer badly from rust if not protected in some way. Painting, galvanization, passivation, plastic coating and bluing are all used to protect iron from rust by excluding water and oxygen or by cathodic protection.
Iron is abundant in biology. Iron-proteins are found in all living organisms, ranging from the evolutionarily primitive archaea to humans. The color of blood is due to the hemoglobin, an iron-containing protein. As illustrated by hemoglobin, iron often is bound to cofactors, e.g. in hemes. The iron-sulfur clusters are pervasive and include nitrogenase, the enzymes responsible for biological nitrogen fixation. Influential theories of evolution have invoked a role for iron sulfides, iron-sulfur world theory.
Iron is a necessary trace element found in nearly all living organisms. Iron-containing enzymes and proteins, often containing heme prosthetic groups, participate in many biological oxidations and in transport. Examples of proteins found in higher organisms include hemoglobin, cytochrome, and catalase.
Health and diet
Iron is pervasive, but particularly rich sources of dietary iron include red meat, lentils, beans, poultry, fish, leaf vegetables, tofu, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, blackstrap molasses, fortified bread, and fortified breakfast cereals. Iron in low amounts is found in molasses, teff and farina. Iron in meat (heme iron) is more easily absorbed than iron in vegetables. Although most studies suggest that heme/hemoglobin from red meat has effects which may increase the likelihood of colorectal cancer, there is still some controversy, and even a few studies suggesting that there is not enough evidence to support such claims.
Iron provided by dietary supplements is often found as iron(II) fumarate, although iron sulfate is cheaper and is absorbed equally well. Elemental iron, or reduced iron, despite being absorbed at only one third to two thirds the efficiency (relative to iron sulfate), is often added to foods such as breakfast cereals or enriched wheat flour. Iron is most available to the body when chelated to amino acids and is also available for use as a common iron supplement. Often the amino acid chosen for this purpose is the cheapest and most common amino acid, glycine, leading to “iron glycinate” supplements.The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for iron varies considerably based on age, gender, and source of dietary iron (heme-based iron has higher bioavailability). Infants may require iron supplements if they are bottle-fed cow’s milk. Blood donors and pregnant women are at special risk of low iron levels and are often advised to supplement their iron intake.
On the other hand excess accumulation of iron in the body also can cause a lot of harm in the form of disease which can be dangerous and treatment can be expensive.