Antimony is a gray metalloid that is usually found naturally as part of the mineral stibnite, although the free metal can also be found in nature. Compounds that contain antimony have been known since ancient times and the metal was also known in these times but was commonly mistaken for lead. Antimony is a chemical element represented by the symbol Sb and the atomic number 51. Antimony is only modestly abundant in the crust of the Earth, but can be found in over 100 minerals. China is believed to have the largest reserves of this element and is also the largest producer at 120,000 metric tons or 89% of the world supply. Despite being relatively scarce, this element has many important applications in the modern world.
Uses of antimony
- Approximately 60% of the antimony produced each year is used to make flame-proofing compounds. Trioxide (a compound of antimony and oxygen) is commonly used in this application. Antimony flame retardants are used in many products and industries such as: children’s clothing, toys, seat covers, and aircraft. It is also used for fire retardant purposes in polyester resins, which are used in the light aircraft and boating industries.
- Antimony is alloyed with lead to increase the mechanical strength and hardness. It is also used in lead-acid batteries to improve charging by reducing unwanted hydrogen generation.
- It is also used in anti-friction alloys, in bullets, metal bearings, solder, pewter, hot metal (used in printing machines), and in alloys used to create organ pipes.
- Other relatively major applications of this metalloid include: catalyst and stabilizer in the production of polyethyleneterephthalate, removing bubbles from glass and as a pigment.
- Minor applications include: production of diodes and infrared detectors, antiprotozoan drugs, veterinary drugs, match heads and cosmetics.
Did you know?
Antimony is toxic to humans and has a similar effect to arsenic. However, the toxicity of antimony is far lower than arsenic. Antimony metal was once used as an antimony pill in humans and was said to improve the function of the bowels!