5 Uses of Chromium in Everyday Life – Properties – Information

Chromium is a transition metal chemical element with symbol Cr and atomic number 24. It was first discovered by French chemist Louis Nicolas Vauquelin in 1797. The name chromium is derived from Greek word ‘chroma’, which means color in English. Chromium is a grey, odorless, malleable and tasteless metal and it has a very strong build compared to other metals.

Vauquelin discovered this chemical element in Paris in a Siberian red lead ore, which is now known as crocoite. He extracted the lead carbonate of chromic acid by boiling the mineral with potassium carbonate or K2CO3. Following this experiment, he declared that he had found a new element and attempted to isolate the metal properly.

Chromium is the twenty-second most abundant chemical element in the Earth’s crust. Its compounds are commonly found in the environment due to erosion of rocks that contain this element. Volcanic eruptions help the widespread of chromium. Chromium metal can be obtained by heating Chromium(III) oxide with finely divided carbon or aluminum.

This element has melting point of 1907 °C and boiling point of 2671 °C. Chromium is huge in industrial applications thanks to its high corrosion resistance against acids and hot temperature. Because of its physical and chemical properties, chromium is one of many refractory metals that holds up well against acids. It also has a very high vapor pressure compared to platinum (Pt). Chromium does not suffer from hydrogen embrittlement, but it can experience nitrogen embrittlement after reacting with nitrogen from air.

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Based on its physical and chemical properties, chromium is widely used in many industries. Here are several uses of Chromium in everyday life:

  1. Chromium in metallurgy

Due to its reputation as a strong transition metal, chromium becomes an essential material for steel. Around 4 to 5% of chromium can be found in high-speed steel. Chromium is usually added to molten iron to form stainless steel, which is famous for its high resistance against corrosion. Stainless steel is notable for its existence in culinary tools such as cutlery and kitchen sinks.

Its durability, hardness and heat resistance are what make stainless steel more preferable than other steel alloys. Many jet engines and gas turbines manufacturing companies produce nickel-chromium-based alloys to strengthen their products because of chromium’s high-temperature tolerance.

Besides being one of essential materials in steels, chromium is also very reliable as metal coating. Again, its ruggedness and resistance to corrosion make chromium as a favorite coating material in many industries. Its durability is proven to be exceptional. In order to apply chromium on metallic surfaces, electroplating technique is suggested. A generator will supply electric current to lessen the amount of dissolved metal cations. Afterwards, a thin layer of metal coating will be formed on an electrode.

Chromium plating is needed to protect the surface of materials that are too easy to be attacked by acids and corrosion. Vehicles such as cars and motorcycles use chromium to produce a shiny, smooth and importantly, high-resistant surfaces to prevent any damage caused by corrosion. Even though chromium oxidizes as time passes by, its oxides are harder than iron’s oxides. This is why car manufacturing companies prefer to coat their bumpers with chromium. Furthermore, chromium plating also gives a lavish feel on the surfaces it is applied with.

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  1. Chromium as a catalyst

There are many uses of Chromium in everyday life. Scientists have been using several chromium compounds as catalysts to process hydrocarbon. American chemists Robert Banks and J. Paul Hogan at Phillips Petroleum Company discovered a method to produce polyethylene by using chromium as catalyst. They propose an idea to impregnate the surface of silica gel with chromium trioxide. The air used to activate the catalyst has to be purified and dried by sodium hydroxide. (Also read: List of Chemicals in Plastic)

After suitable temperature is established, dry nitrogen will replace the air, and the catalyst must be cooled to room temperature. After that, the catalyst will be removed to a bottle and kept inside a dry box. The ethylene polymerization then will be carried out at a constant pressure.

Polyethylene is a variety of plastic which is the most abundant synthetic polymer with 80 million tons per annum. Polyethylene is mostly used in packaging or wraps such as plastic bags, containers, stationery storage boxes and many more. Even though it is widely used by many people in the world, polyethylene is frail, flammable but it has low friction. On the other hand, this synthetic polymer is an electrical insulator and often used in electrical engineering.

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  1. Chromium to preserve wood

Several chromium salts are used as wood preservative for example chromium(VI) salts. These salts are toxic to termites, beetles, and decay fungi. Chromium will control wood rot, sapstain and molds. Wood preservatives that contain chromated arsenicals (chromium, copper and arsenic) have been used since the 1940s. They guard wood from insects and prevent rotting process.

Since then, almost every wood in different kinds of abodes would be applied with chromium preservatives. Acid Copper Chromate (ACC) is an example of chromium-based wood preservatives. It is mostly used for commercial and industrial purposes. Chromium in ACC actually does not preserve the wood but it helps the binding process of other chemicals to the wood’s cellulose and lignin.

While chromium-based wood preservative is effective to combat decay fungi and insects, it is very toxic to the environment. ACC-treated wood disposal by burning is dangerous for humans when the arsenic exposure breaks the suggested limit. Many countries have taken a stance to restrict the use of ACC on wood as it poses a lot of dangers to children.

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  1. Chromium as dye and pigment

After the discovery of crocoite, a mineral that contains lead chromate PbCrO4, it was instantly used as pigments for its vibrant colors. A synthesis method is used to obtain the green, yellow, red and orange pigments from chromium, with yellow being the famous one. Although chromium pigments will not decompose due to light, it will still darken because of the formation of chromium(III) oxide.

Because of its bright colors, chromium pigments are used for American school buses and European Postal service and several aircraft. But the applications on vehicles have declined since lead chromate is not friendly to the environment. The textile industry also uses chromium as a mordant to bind other dyes on fabrics. However, that is one of the several uses of Chromium in everyday life.

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  1. Chromium in the human body

There are two kinds of chromium, trivalent chromium and hexavalent chromium. The first chromium is necessary in the human body because it can enhance the activities of insulin. Meanwhile, hexavalent chromium is toxic to human and can cause cancer. Trivalent chromium is essential to maintain metabolism and helps store fats, protein and carbohydrate in cells.

Trivalent chromium can be found in food and is not dangerous for humans. People who suffer from prediabetes and are undergoing HIV treatments are encouraged to consume chromium-based food or supplements to control blood sugar. This chemical element is also used to treat depression (whether severe or not), lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol for people who are taking cardiac medications. Due to this reason, chromium also serves a role in preventing various heart diseases.

Since chromium is essential in the human body, chromium deficiency can occur. Low amount of chromium can cause problems in metabolism, raise blood sugar level and anxiety. Injuries or surgeries can decrease the level of chromium in the human body. It opens a possibility to formation of plaques inside the arteries and narrows the space for blood to flow. Arteries serve an important role in the transportation of oxygen-rich blood to heart. Cardiac problems will happen if chromium deficiency persists.

Fresh fruits such as grapes, grain products, broccoli and spices are some of food sources that contain adequate amount of chromium. Researchers believe that by consuming food sources with chromium, a person can control their weight loss program and increase muscles better. Elders are suggested to have 20-30 mcg of chromium per day to prevent age-related memory loss. Chromium can also be obtained in for of supplements and multivitamins.

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Although there are no apparent side effects of chromium, high doses of chromium can change the acidity in stomach and overlap with vitamins or drugs such as Vitamin C, insulin, propranolol and niacin. Finally, rational daily intake of chromium products should be a priority for people of all ages. Meanwhile, there are many uses of Chromium in everyday life that we can take.

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