Iron (Fe) is a metal, hence, it is conductive. While it conducts heat and electricity better than insulators, it is not up there with some of the most conductive earthly metals.
This is because different metals have varying conductive potentials specifically tied to their chemical properties and sometimes, physical properties.
In this guide, I will be explaining iron as a conductive metal, its properties, how it conducts electricity, and its various real-life applications.
Properties of Iron
To better understand iron as a conductive metal, one must have a solid knowledge of the major properties of the metal.
- Iron makes up a large part of the earth’s core.
- Iron is a soft and dense metal. Its structure becomes brutal or unstable with the introduction of impurities.
- Iron is ferromagnetic (highly susceptible to magnetization). It becomes paramagnetic (less susceptible to magnetization) when it is above curie (radioactive) temperature.
- Iron has a bcc structure with atomic number 26.
- It has a density of 7.87 g/cm3.
- The boiling and melting point of Iron is 2861°C and 1538°C respectively.
How Does Iron Conduct Electricity?
Generally, matters conduct electricity because of the number of valence (outermost shell) electrons in each atom. This rule also applies to iron.
From the electronic configuration of Iron, it is safe to say its bonding type is metallic. Metallic bonds allow electrons to flow freely from one atom to another and give room for decent conductivity. This free flow of electrons around is known as delocalization.
Compared to other good conductors, iron has a high resistance, hence, it is not regarded as a top performer of electrical conductivity.
What is the Electrical Conductivity of Iron?
Electrical conductivity is a property of matter that measures the total electric flux flowing through the matter. At 20°C, iron has a conductivity of 1.04×107 σ(S/m).
However, conductivity varies with resistivity or resistance, area, and length of the material. It can be calculated using the formula σ = 1/ρ; where:
- σ represents “electrical conductivity”
- ρ represents “resistivity” or the property of a matter that opposes the flow of current.
To calculate the resistivity (ρ) of a matter, the formula ρ = (RA)/L is necessary. Here:
- R represents “resistance” of the material
- A represents the “cross-sectional area” of the material.
- L is the “length” of the material.
This means by replacing resistivity (ρ) with (RA)/L in the first formula, electrical conductivity (σ) becomes:
σ = L/(RA)
With this, you can easily calculate the electrical conductivity of any material when the length, area, and resistance are stated instead of resistivity.
Does Iron Conduct Heat Better than Electricity?
Iron conducts heat better than electricity because the free electrons transmit heat energy from one area to another with little or no resistance at high temperatures. This is not the case for electrical conductivity.
Temperature increases resistance in iron, hence, decreases its ability to conduct electricity. Valence (free) electrons, on the other hand, get more excited in the presence of high temperatures and acquire more heat.
While doing this, they partially block the pathway of current through the conductor (iron). This also supports the principle of electrical conductivity which states that conductivity is inversely proportional to resistivity.
Uses of Iron as a Conductor
Iron conducts heat and electricity. Thanks to this, it forms a major part of our everyday lives. Here are some of the most common real-life applications of iron:
- Cast-iron present in ovens allows them to cook and bake foods.
- Most steel utensils used for cooking and in the kitchen are products of iron.
- Hair straighteners consist of two ceramic plates made up of iron. These plates create the necessary heat you need to straighten your hair.
- Iron-based metals like aluminum and steel can also feature as casing for electronic appliances.
- The main surface of pressing irons (for clothes) is also a product of iron.
Are There Better Conductors than Iron?
Not all metals have the same conductive ability. So, it is safe to say some metals conduct electricity better than iron.
Of all these metals, these 4 stand out:
1. Silver (Ag)
Silver is the greatest metallic conductor on earth with just one valence electron. It is more expensive than most metals and features in specialized devices like computers, solar panels, and water filters.
It is also useful in the manufacturing of jewelry, mirrors, and cutlery.
2. Copper (Cu)
Like Silver (Ag), Copper (Cu) also has only one valence electron and is next in line with Silver. It is cheaper because it is less conductive.
It also features heavily in wiring, household appliances, plating, and wrapping electromagnetic cores. Copper is corrosion-resistant, hence, it remains a great option for building marine devices.
3. Gold (Au)
Gold (Au) is renowned for its immense value. Beyond that, it is soft, malleable, and can be crafted into jewelry. It is also used in electronics and the decoration of glassware.
It has a valence electron and boasts better conductivity than iron but is not as good as Silver or Copper.
4. Aluminum (Al)
Although Aluminum is not as conductive as Silver, Gold, or Copper, there are instances where they serve as a better wiring solution. Its ability to be reshaped without fracture and greater strength-to-weight ratio make it the best for power lines.
However, for basic everyday wiring applications, copper remains the most ideal. Some household utensils are also made of aluminum.
Can electricity pass through rusted iron?
Rusted iron is a poor conductor of electricity.
This is why an electronic device with a rusted battery won’t work.
Is iron a semiconductor?
Iron is predominantly a conductor, not a semiconductor.
Iron oxides (a combination of iron and oxygen), on the other hand, can act as a semiconductor to photocatalytic bacterial inactivation.
Is there a metal that cannot conduct electricity?
Bismuth is a metal that cannot conduct electricity.
Iron is a conductive metal with unique physical and chemical properties. It conducts electricity thanks to its valence (8) electrons and has a variety of real-life applications.
While iron may not be the best conductor of electric current because its conductivity reduces with increase in temperature, it is a better conductor of heat.
Compared to other metals, it also has numerous real-life applications that can help you with daily activities.
I hope you found this article. Like iron, aluminum also has diverse real-life applications thanks to its conductivity and other properties. To better understand it’s electrical and thermal conductivity, check out my guide on if aluminum is conductive.
Thank you for reading.