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Stuff of Progress: Iron

Stuff of Progress: Iron

https://humanprogress.org/article.php?p=2155

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Iron: the fourth most abundant element on earth

Iron: the fourth most abundant element on earth

Iron is the fourth most abundant element in the Earth's crust, and is found as an ore called Magnetite. Iron is crucial for creating steel, which is required for countries which are undergoing industrialization.

While we humans mine a lot of sophisticated metals like Aluminum and Titanium, Iron forms the skeleton of modern infrastructure.

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The early history of iron exploitation

Iron has been collected, mined and processed into its metallic form since 1200 BCE. Large scale production only started in 1750, at the start of the Industrial Revolution.

Steel, an alloy of Iron and Carbon is known for its purity and strength, and was patented by British inventor Sir Henry Bessemer in 1857. Steel helped humanity make stronger and larger tools, paving the way for industrialized progress.

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Iron and the increased demand for wood

Scaling up of iron production in Great Britain, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, led to a dramatic increase in the demand for wood. The creation of steel takes its toll on forests, with the requirement of charcoal, a residue of wood, to smelt iron and carbon.

Charcoal production, leading to demand for wood, has since then led to widespread deforestation with thousands of square kilometers of forests cut annually.

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Iron in the Modern Age

  • As the tools to produce steel got refined, they were made more energy efficient and produced higher-quality steel.
  • The production of finished iron in 2018 is 1.8 million metric tonnes, as compared to 800,000 metric tonnes in the 18th century. China accounts for one of the leading producers of steel.
  • The modern civilization is highly dependent on iron exploration and we continue to find newer ways to manufacture the metal with a minimum carbon footprint.

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