Cerium is a rare earth element that was named after the dwarf planet Ceres. It is a silvery metal that is soft, ductile and malleable. It is a chemical element and is represented by the atomic number 58 with the symbol Ce. It is not found in its free form on the planet, but is found in a number of different minerals. It is the most common of the rare earth elements and makes up about 0.0046% of the crust of the planet. Cerium is produced by crushing and grinding various minerals and then the pure metal is extracted with a specific extraction technique using sulfuric acid, sodium hydroxide, ammonium oxalate and nitric acid. Although it is a relatively rare element it has a number of important applications in the world today.
Uses of cerium
- The number one use of cerium is in the automotive industry. It can be used in catalytic converters, which remove the harmful carbon monoxide from exhaust gases in vehicles. It is also for this reason that cerium oxide is also added to diesel fuel. It is used in the petroleum refining industry as a cracking catalyst. It is also used for this purpose in self cleaning ovens.
- Cerium oxide is one of the best polishing materials for glass. Compounds of cerium are also used in glassmaking to decolor glass. It also allows for UV light to be absorbed in glass and has a high refractive index.
- Cerium, together with other elements, is used in certain types of gas lanterns (often used for camping purposes).
- Certain pigments are enhanced through the use of cerium. The element increases light fastness and it prevents clear pigments from darkening on exposure to sunlight. It is also used in televisions to prevent the glass darkening in use. Cerium is also used in fluorescent lamps and carbon-arc lighting.
- Cerium is used as a part of mischmetal alloy, which is used for fire-lighting flints.
- It is also added to aluminum, magnesium and iron alloys. It degasifies and reduces sulfides and oxides in the steel making process. It is also used in the production of stainless steel as a hardening agent. It is also used to create malleable cast iron. In magnesium alloys the cerium is used to add heat resistance, refine the grain and improve casting ability. In aluminum alloy the cerium is added to improve corrosion resistance.
- It is also used in magnets.
- Cerium is used in tungsten electrodes for arc welding purposes.
- Cerium oxalate, a compound made up of cerium, oxygen and carbom, is used as an anti-nausea drug. It was also used in World War II as part of invisible ink!