Reddish-brown hexagonal crystal; refractive index 2.91; density 5.25g/cm3; Moh’s hardness 6.0; melts at 1565°C; insoluble in water; dissolves in acids.
As pigment for rubber, paints, paper, linoleum, ceramics, glass; in paint for ironwork, ship hulls; as polishing agent for glass, precious metals, diamonds; in electrical resistors and semiconductors; in magnets, magnetic tapes; as catalyst; colloidal solutions as stain for polysaccharides.
Iron(III) oxide is prepared as a reddish-brown hydrated precipitate by treating an aqueous solution of an iron(III) salt with caustic soda:
2FeCl3 + 6NaOH → Fe2O3•3H2O + 6NaCl
It also is obtained by thermal decomposition of iron(II) sulfate or the brown oxide hydroxide:
2FeSO4 → Fe2O3 + SO2 + SO3
2FeO(OH) → Fe2O3 + H2O
The oxide is prepared in industrial scale by first precipitating iron(II) hydroxide Fe(OH)2 by treating aqueous solutions of iron(II) sulfate and caustic soda. The Fe(OH)2 is then oxidized to iron(III) hydroxide by aeration. The latter is dehydrated by heating:
Fe2+ (aq) + OH¯ (aq) → Fe(OH)2(s) → 2Fe(OH)3 → Fe2O3 + 3H2O
It also is produced by ignition of iron(III) oxalate and iron carbonyls:
2Fe2(C2O4)3 +3O2 → 2Fe2O3 + 12CO
Occurrence and Uses
Iron(III) oxide occurs in nature as the mineral hematite. It is the principal ore of iron from which the metal and its alloys are produced. Also, this oxide occurs in the mineral, limonite, 2Fe2O3•3H2O. An important application of this compound involves producing red, orange, and yellow pigments. Other applications are in coatings for metals, steel and rubber; in ceramics; and as a catalyst for oxidation reactions.
Iron(III) oxide decomposes to its elements when heated at elevated temperatures:
2Fe2O3 → 4Fe + 3O2
The oxide is reduced by most reducing agents. Reaction with carbon monoxide at elevated temperatures (that occurs in the blast furnace) gives metallic iron. The overall reaction is mildly exothermic (ΔHrxn –113.4 kcal/mol):
2 Fe2O3 + 6CO → 4Fe + 6CO2
It also is reduced by powdered aluminum at elevated temperatures, forming aluminum oxide and metallic iron:
Fe2O3 + 2Al → Al2O3 + 2Fe
The reaction is highly exothermic and becomes self-sustaining after ignition.
When heated with sand in an electric furnace, iron(III) oxide forms ferrosilicon alloy. When heated in a vacuum at 1,000°C, it forms triiron tetroxide, Fe3O4.
red to reddish-brown powder