Skip to Content
OpenStax Logo
Chemistry: Atoms First

18.2 Occurrence and Preparation of the Representative Metals

Chemistry: Atoms First18.2 Occurrence and Preparation of the Representative Metals
  1. Preface
  2. 1 Essential Ideas
    1. Introduction
    2. 1.1 Chemistry in Context
    3. 1.2 Phases and Classification of Matter
    4. 1.3 Physical and Chemical Properties
    5. 1.4 Measurements
    6. 1.5 Measurement Uncertainty, Accuracy, and Precision
    7. 1.6 Mathematical Treatment of Measurement Results
    8. Key Terms
    9. Key Equations
    10. Summary
    11. Exercises
  3. 2 Atoms, Molecules, and Ions
    1. Introduction
    2. 2.1 Early Ideas in Atomic Theory
    3. 2.2 Evolution of Atomic Theory
    4. 2.3 Atomic Structure and Symbolism
    5. 2.4 Chemical Formulas
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Equations
    8. Summary
    9. Exercises
  4. 3 Electronic Structure and Periodic Properties of Elements
    1. Introduction
    2. 3.1 Electromagnetic Energy
    3. 3.2 The Bohr Model
    4. 3.3 Development of Quantum Theory
    5. 3.4 Electronic Structure of Atoms (Electron Configurations)
    6. 3.5 Periodic Variations in Element Properties
    7. 3.6 The Periodic Table
    8. 3.7 Molecular and Ionic Compounds
    9. Key Terms
    10. Key Equations
    11. Summary
    12. Exercises
  5. 4 Chemical Bonding and Molecular Geometry
    1. Introduction
    2. 4.1 Ionic Bonding
    3. 4.2 Covalent Bonding
    4. 4.3 Chemical Nomenclature
    5. 4.4 Lewis Symbols and Structures
    6. 4.5 Formal Charges and Resonance
    7. 4.6 Molecular Structure and Polarity
    8. Key Terms
    9. Key Equations
    10. Summary
    11. Exercises
  6. 5 Advanced Theories of Bonding
    1. Introduction
    2. 5.1 Valence Bond Theory
    3. 5.2 Hybrid Atomic Orbitals
    4. 5.3 Multiple Bonds
    5. 5.4 Molecular Orbital Theory
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Equations
    8. Summary
    9. Exercises
  7. 6 Composition of Substances and Solutions
    1. Introduction
    2. 6.1 Formula Mass and the Mole Concept
    3. 6.2 Determining Empirical and Molecular Formulas
    4. 6.3 Molarity
    5. 6.4 Other Units for Solution Concentrations
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Equations
    8. Summary
    9. Exercises
  8. 7 Stoichiometry of Chemical Reactions
    1. Introduction
    2. 7.1 Writing and Balancing Chemical Equations
    3. 7.2 Classifying Chemical Reactions
    4. 7.3 Reaction Stoichiometry
    5. 7.4 Reaction Yields
    6. 7.5 Quantitative Chemical Analysis
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Equations
    9. Summary
    10. Exercises
  9. 8 Gases
    1. Introduction
    2. 8.1 Gas Pressure
    3. 8.2 Relating Pressure, Volume, Amount, and Temperature: The Ideal Gas Law
    4. 8.3 Stoichiometry of Gaseous Substances, Mixtures, and Reactions
    5. 8.4 Effusion and Diffusion of Gases
    6. 8.5 The Kinetic-Molecular Theory
    7. 8.6 Non-Ideal Gas Behavior
    8. Key Terms
    9. Key Equations
    10. Summary
    11. Exercises
  10. 9 Thermochemistry
    1. Introduction
    2. 9.1 Energy Basics
    3. 9.2 Calorimetry
    4. 9.3 Enthalpy
    5. 9.4 Strengths of Ionic and Covalent Bonds
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Equations
    8. Summary
    9. Exercises
  11. 10 Liquids and Solids
    1. Introduction
    2. 10.1 Intermolecular Forces
    3. 10.2 Properties of Liquids
    4. 10.3 Phase Transitions
    5. 10.4 Phase Diagrams
    6. 10.5 The Solid State of Matter
    7. 10.6 Lattice Structures in Crystalline Solids
    8. Key Terms
    9. Key Equations
    10. Summary
    11. Exercises
  12. 11 Solutions and Colloids
    1. Introduction
    2. 11.1 The Dissolution Process
    3. 11.2 Electrolytes
    4. 11.3 Solubility
    5. 11.4 Colligative Properties
    6. 11.5 Colloids
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Equations
    9. Summary
    10. Exercises
  13. 12 Thermodynamics
    1. Introduction
    2. 12.1 Spontaneity
    3. 12.2 Entropy
    4. 12.3 The Second and Third Laws of Thermodynamics
    5. 12.4 Free Energy
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Equations
    8. Summary
    9. Exercises
  14. 13 Fundamental Equilibrium Concepts
    1. Introduction
    2. 13.1 Chemical Equilibria
    3. 13.2 Equilibrium Constants
    4. 13.3 Shifting Equilibria: Le Châtelier’s Principle
    5. 13.4 Equilibrium Calculations
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Equations
    8. Summary
    9. Exercises
  15. 14 Acid-Base Equilibria
    1. Introduction
    2. 14.1 Brønsted-Lowry Acids and Bases
    3. 14.2 pH and pOH
    4. 14.3 Relative Strengths of Acids and Bases
    5. 14.4 Hydrolysis of Salt Solutions
    6. 14.5 Polyprotic Acids
    7. 14.6 Buffers
    8. 14.7 Acid-Base Titrations
    9. Key Terms
    10. Key Equations
    11. Summary
    12. Exercises
  16. 15 Equilibria of Other Reaction Classes
    1. Introduction
    2. 15.1 Precipitation and Dissolution
    3. 15.2 Lewis Acids and Bases
    4. 15.3 Multiple Equilibria
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Equations
    7. Summary
    8. Exercises
  17. 16 Electrochemistry
    1. Introduction
    2. 16.1 Balancing Oxidation-Reduction Reactions
    3. 16.2 Galvanic Cells
    4. 16.3 Standard Reduction Potentials
    5. 16.4 The Nernst Equation
    6. 16.5 Batteries and Fuel Cells
    7. 16.6 Corrosion
    8. 16.7 Electrolysis
    9. Key Terms
    10. Key Equations
    11. Summary
    12. Exercises
  18. 17 Kinetics
    1. Introduction
    2. 17.1 Chemical Reaction Rates
    3. 17.2 Factors Affecting Reaction Rates
    4. 17.3 Rate Laws
    5. 17.4 Integrated Rate Laws
    6. 17.5 Collision Theory
    7. 17.6 Reaction Mechanisms
    8. 17.7 Catalysis
    9. Key Terms
    10. Key Equations
    11. Summary
    12. Exercises
  19. 18 Representative Metals, Metalloids, and Nonmetals
    1. Introduction
    2. 18.1 Periodicity
    3. 18.2 Occurrence and Preparation of the Representative Metals
    4. 18.3 Structure and General Properties of the Metalloids
    5. 18.4 Structure and General Properties of the Nonmetals
    6. 18.5 Occurrence, Preparation, and Compounds of Hydrogen
    7. 18.6 Occurrence, Preparation, and Properties of Carbonates
    8. 18.7 Occurrence, Preparation, and Properties of Nitrogen
    9. 18.8 Occurrence, Preparation, and Properties of Phosphorus
    10. 18.9 Occurrence, Preparation, and Compounds of Oxygen
    11. 18.10 Occurrence, Preparation, and Properties of Sulfur
    12. 18.11 Occurrence, Preparation, and Properties of Halogens
    13. 18.12 Occurrence, Preparation, and Properties of the Noble Gases
    14. Key Terms
    15. Summary
    16. Exercises
  20. 19 Transition Metals and Coordination Chemistry
    1. Introduction
    2. 19.1 Occurrence, Preparation, and Properties of Transition Metals and Their Compounds
    3. 19.2 Coordination Chemistry of Transition Metals
    4. 19.3 Spectroscopic and Magnetic Properties of Coordination Compounds
    5. Key Terms
    6. Summary
    7. Exercises
  21. 20 Nuclear Chemistry
    1. Introduction
    2. 20.1 Nuclear Structure and Stability
    3. 20.2 Nuclear Equations
    4. 20.3 Radioactive Decay
    5. 20.4 Transmutation and Nuclear Energy
    6. 20.5 Uses of Radioisotopes
    7. 20.6 Biological Effects of Radiation
    8. Key Terms
    9. Key Equations
    10. Summary
    11. Exercises
  22. 21 Organic Chemistry
    1. Introduction
    2. 21.1 Hydrocarbons
    3. 21.2 Alcohols and Ethers
    4. 21.3 Aldehydes, Ketones, Carboxylic Acids, and Esters
    5. 21.4 Amines and Amides
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Exercises
  23. A | The Periodic Table
  24. B | Essential Mathematics
  25. C | Units and Conversion Factors
  26. D | Fundamental Physical Constants
  27. E | Water Properties
  28. F | Composition of Commercial Acids and Bases
  29. G | Standard Thermodynamic Properties for Selected Substances
  30. H | Ionization Constants of Weak Acids
  31. I | Ionization Constants of Weak Bases
  32. J | Solubility Products
  33. K | Formation Constants for Complex Ions
  34. L | Standard Electrode (Half-Cell) Potentials
  35. M | Half-Lives for Several Radioactive Isotopes
  36. Answer Key
    1. Chapter 1
    2. Chapter 2
    3. Chapter 3
    4. Chapter 4
    5. Chapter 5
    6. Chapter 6
    7. Chapter 7
    8. Chapter 8
    9. Chapter 9
    10. Chapter 10
    11. Chapter 11
    12. Chapter 12
    13. Chapter 13
    14. Chapter 14
    15. Chapter 15
    16. Chapter 16
    17. Chapter 17
    18. Chapter 18
    19. Chapter 19
    20. Chapter 20
    21. Chapter 21
  37. Index

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Identify natural sources of representative metals
  • Describe electrolytic and chemical reduction processes used to prepare these elements from natural sources

Because of their reactivity, we do not find most representative metals as free elements in nature. However, compounds that contain ions of most representative metals are abundant. In this section, we will consider the two common techniques used to isolate the metals from these compounds—electrolysis and chemical reduction.

These metals primarily occur in minerals, with lithium found in silicate or phosphate minerals, and sodium and potassium found in salt deposits from evaporation of ancient seas and in silicates. The alkaline earth metals occur as silicates and, with the exception of beryllium, as carbonates and sulfates. Beryllium occurs as the mineral beryl, Be3Al2Si6O18, which, with certain impurities, may be either the gemstone emerald or aquamarine. Magnesium is in seawater and, along with the heavier alkaline earth metals, occurs as silicates, carbonates, and sulfates. Aluminum occurs abundantly in many types of clay and in bauxite, an impure aluminum oxide hydroxide. The principle tin ore is the oxide cassiterite, SnO2, and the principle lead and thallium ores are the sulfides or the products of weathering of the sulfides. The remaining representative metals occur as impurities in zinc or aluminum ores.


Ions of metals in of groups 1 and 2, along with aluminum, are very difficult to reduce; therefore, it is necessary to prepare these elements by electrolysis, an important process discussed in the chapter on electrochemistry. Briefly, electrolysis involves using electrical energy to drive unfavorable chemical reactions to completion; it is useful in the isolation of reactive metals in their pure forms. Sodium, aluminum, and magnesium are typical examples.

The Preparation of Sodium

The most important method for the production of sodium is the electrolysis of molten sodium chloride; the set-up is a Downs cell, shown in Figure 18.10. The reaction involved in this process is:


The electrolysis cell contains molten sodium chloride (melting point 801 °C), to which calcium chloride has been added to lower the melting point to 600 °C (a colligative effect). The passage of a direct current through the cell causes the sodium ions to migrate to the negatively charged cathode and pick up electrons, reducing the ions to sodium metal. Chloride ions migrate to the positively charged anode, lose electrons, and undergo oxidation to chlorine gas. The overall cell reaction comes from adding the following reactions:

at the cathode:2Na++2e2Na(l)at the anode:2ClCl2(g)+2eoverall change:2Na++2Cl2Na(l)+Cl2(g)at the cathode:2Na++2e2Na(l)at the anode:2ClCl2(g)+2eoverall change:2Na++2Cl2Na(l)+Cl2(g)

Separation of the molten sodium and chlorine prevents recombination. The liquid sodium, which is less dense than molten sodium chloride, floats to the surface and flows into a collector. The gaseous chlorine goes to storage tanks. Chlorine is also a valuable product.

A diagram is shown. At the center of the diagram is a T-shaped structure labeled, “Anode ( positive sign ),” that is on a mesh-like background labeled, “Iron screen.” The anode is connected to a box labeled, “Voltage source,” by a line, and the voltage source is connected to one of two L-shaped structures that surround the anode. They are labeled, “Cathode ( negative sign ).” Above the cathode on the right side of the diagram is a tube connected to a collection chamber labeled, “N a metal,” that has a lower outlet labeled, “N a outlet.” Surrounding all of these components is a blue background labeled, “Molten N a C l,” and a series of tubes that form a square outside the diagram. They have an opening in the upper right corner labeled, “Inlet for N a C l.” At the top of the diagram is a large tube with an upward-facing arrow drawn on it. The tube turns right, has a right-facing arrow on it, and is labeled, “C l subscript 2 outlet.”
Figure 18.10 Pure sodium metal is isolated by electrolysis of molten sodium chloride using a Downs cell. It is not possible to isolate sodium by electrolysis of aqueous solutions of sodium salts because hydrogen ions are more easily reduced than are sodium ions; as a result, hydrogen gas forms at the cathode instead of the desired sodium metal. The high temperature required to melt NaCl means that liquid sodium metal forms.

The Preparation of Aluminum

The preparation of aluminum utilizes a process invented in 1886 by Charles M. Hall, who began to work on the problem while a student at Oberlin College in Ohio. Paul L. T. Héroult discovered the process independently a month or two later in France. In honor to the two inventors, this electrolysis cell is known as the Hall–Héroult cell. The Hall–Héroult cell is an electrolysis cell for the production of aluminum. Figure 18.11 illustrates the Hall–Héroult cell.

The production of aluminum begins with the purification of bauxite, the most common source of aluminum. The reaction of bauxite, AlO(OH), with hot sodium hydroxide forms soluble sodium aluminate, while clay and other impurities remain undissolved:


After the removal of the impurities by filtration, the addition of acid to the aluminate leads to the reprecipitation of aluminum hydroxide:


The next step is to remove the precipitated aluminum hydroxide by filtration. Heating the hydroxide produces aluminum oxide, Al2O3, which dissolves in a molten mixture of cryolite, Na3AlF6, and calcium fluoride, CaF2. Electrolysis of this solution takes place in a cell like that shown in Figure 18.11. Reduction of aluminum ions to the metal occurs at the cathode, while oxygen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide form at the anode.

A diagram is shown. At the center of the diagram are two black squares, each labeled, “Carbon anode ( positive sign ),” and connected by forked tubes to a horizontal tube labeled with a positive sign. The carbon anodes are submerged in a green liquid labeled, “A l subscript 2 O subscript 3 dissolved in molten N a subscript 3 A l F subscript 6.” It is held in place by a three-sided, double layered container which is labeled, “Steel sheet,” on the outer layer and, “Ceramic,” on the inner layer. The carbon anodes are surrounded by bubbles labeled, “Bubbles of O subscript 2, C O, and C O subscript 2.” Below the green liquids lies a silver layer labeled, “Molten aluminum,” and a black layer labeled, “Carbon cathode ( negative sign ).” Above the diagram is an outlet tube labeled with an upward-facing arrow and the words, “H F and particulates exhaust to filter plant.”
Figure 18.11 An electrolytic cell is used for the production of aluminum. The electrolysis of a solution of cryolite and calcium fluoride results in aluminum metal at the cathode, and oxygen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide at the anode.

The Preparation of Magnesium

Magnesium is the other metal that is isolated in large quantities by electrolysis. Seawater, which contains approximately 0.5% magnesium chloride, serves as the major source of magnesium. Addition of calcium hydroxide to seawater precipitates magnesium hydroxide. The addition of hydrochloric acid to magnesium hydroxide, followed by evaporation of the resultant aqueous solution, leaves pure magnesium chloride. The electrolysis of molten magnesium chloride forms liquid magnesium and chlorine gas:


Some production facilities have moved away from electrolysis completely. In the next section, we will see how the Pidgeon process leads to the chemical reduction of magnesium.

Chemical Reduction

It is possible to isolate many of the representative metals by chemical reduction using other elements as reducing agents. In general, chemical reduction is much less expensive than electrolysis, and for this reason, chemical reduction is the method of choice for the isolation of these elements. For example, it is possible to produce potassium, rubidium, and cesium by chemical reduction, as it is possible to reduce the molten chlorides of these metals with sodium metal. This may be surprising given that these metals are more reactive than sodium; however, the metals formed are more volatile than sodium and can be distilled for collection. The removal of the metal vapor leads to a shift in the equilibrium to produce more metal (see how reactions can be driven in the discussions of Le Châtelier’s principle in the chapter on fundamental equilibrium concepts).

The production of magnesium, zinc, and tin provide additional examples of chemical reduction.

The Preparation of Magnesium

The Pidgeon process involves the reaction of magnesium oxide with elemental silicon at high temperatures to form pure magnesium:


Although this reaction is unfavorable in terms of thermodynamics, the removal of the magnesium vapor produced takes advantage of Le Châtelier’s principle to continue the forward progress of the reaction. Over 75% of the world’s production of magnesium, primarily in China, comes from this process.

The Preparation of Zinc

Zinc ores usually contain zinc sulfide, zinc oxide, or zinc carbonate. After separation of these compounds from the ores, heating in air converts the ore to zinc oxide by one of the following reactions:


Carbon, in the form of coal, reduces the zinc oxide to form zinc vapor:


The zinc can be distilled (boiling point 907 °C) and condensed. This zinc contains impurities of cadmium (767 °C), iron (2862 °C), lead (1750 °C), and arsenic (613 °C). Careful redistillation produces pure zinc. Arsenic and cadmium are distilled from the zinc because they have lower boiling points. At higher temperatures, the zinc is distilled from the other impurities, mainly lead and iron.

The Preparation of Tin

The ready reduction of tin(IV) oxide by the hot coals of a campfire accounts for the knowledge of tin in the ancient world. In the modern process, the roasting of tin ores containing SnO2 removes contaminants such as arsenic and sulfur as volatile oxides. Treatment of the remaining material with hydrochloric acid removes the oxides of other metals. Heating the purified ore with carbon at temperature above 1000 °C produces tin:


The molten tin collects at the bottom of the furnace and is drawn off and cast into blocks.


Want to cite, share, or modify this book? This book is Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 and you must attribute OpenStax.

Attribution information
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a print format, then you must include on every physical page the following attribution:
    Access for free at
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a digital format, then you must include on every digital page view the following attribution:
    Access for free at
Citation information

© Sep 16, 2020 OpenStax. Textbook content produced by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 license. The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.