red iron oxide ore on conveyor

Natural Red Iron Oxide - Applications & Uses

Red iron oxide has a wealth of uses, from as a pigment to ensuring optimal oil drilling, and is available in the highest purity, milled to any specification, from African Pegmatite.

Haemetite, most commonly known as rust, is a chemical compound of iron and oxygen. In the industrial realm it is known as red iron oxide and is one of the most important minerals. This compound of iron and oxygen is only one of sixteen known oxyhydroxide variants. As a granulated powder it makes an excellent cost effective colourant. Red iron oxide is one of the oldest pigments to be used by every major civilization.

Naturally occurring as deposits in crystalline form, variations of haemetite can be found around the world. Even far away on Mars, red iron oxide is available naturally. On Earth, it coexists with several other minerals including chalk, clay, and quartz. Readily available in several forms, only two forms are specifically used as a colourant and can be used in the production of industrial, commercial, and household products including:

Colourant, Pigment, and Dyes

The company African Pegmatite has a large global footprint with over 170 million coloured bricks produced every year. Qualities as a colourant include permanency and dependability with extensive opacity and tinting strength. Additionally, haemetite is indifferent to alkalis, does not react with solvents, but are partially soluble in acids.

powdered red iron oxide

Clay and Ceramic Colouring

Classical terracotta colourations will be observed in most clays post firing, to which 4 to 10% by weight red iron oxide has been added. Alongside other pigments, the use of red iron oxide as the primary pigment can lead to a wealth of other colours and hues.

When used at 65 weight%, iron oxide alongside kaolin and sand will afford a vividly read pigment in porcelain; deep black ceramics can be produced when 10% of the hematite is replaced with powdered magnesite ore. Coral pink can be observed when the same amount of hematite/red iron oxide is replaced with zirconium silicate. Modulation of the characteristic red-brown chromophore resulting from red iron oxide by the addition of other metals will result in a wide bouquet of possibilities in terms of colour.

Glass

The red colouring provides UV protection, and provides non leeching containment which is important to products like beer, wine, pharmaceuticals, and oils, and for plate glass for residential, commercial, automotive, and architectural use.

In general, the darker the bottle colour, the better resistance to ultraviolet light, and thus the better the chance of preservation of the container glass’s contents.

Glazes

A logical extension from ceramic pigments to glazes is natural with hematite/red iron oxide. When combined with silica, 10% by weight of red iron oxide is more than sufficient to produce a lustrous red glaze after firing in excess of 1000 °C - with the hematite-silica combination glaze pigment possessing enhanced levels of stability over pure hematite or silica. This reduced temperature requirement is well suited to the modern ceramic industry, which relies on fast turnarounds and maximal use of equipment. On the other hand, hematite glazes can be fired to produce blueish colourations in reducing environments, with the addition of oxides of potassium being responsible for a modulation of the blue towards green.

Crazing is reduced by the addition of red iron oxide/hematite in the glaze prior to firing in quantities exceeding 2 weight%. Such quantities may not afford colouration. Crazing is where small, hairline cracks form in a glaze due to thermal expansion of the glaze over time, even after firing.

Paving bricks coloured with red iron oxide

Cement, Concrete, Pavers, and Blocks

Using only one part hematite and three parts grey cement will create a deep red cement colour, and many variations are used in modern walkways, parks, and private and public recreational areas. For concrete applications, 5 to 10% by weight of red iron oxide is used. Red iron oxide is also used with a variety of coloured pavers and blocks for creative paving of walkways, driveways, patios, firepits and masonry work.

Flooring

Best suited to indoors for homes and industrial use, red oxide flooring is very cost efficient, durable, and appealing for its’ luxurious shine that ages well.

Roofing Tiles

For durability, red iron oxide pigment roofing tiles are a great choice. They are weather durable and this type of roof can last well in excess of 15 to 30 years, and does not need to be sealed or re-sealed. Depending on the base material, such as concrete or clay, some red iron oxide roofs can last 50 to 100 years.

Plastics And Rubber

Hematite is a known additive in a range of plastics, acting as a binder and providing durability benefits for applications such as:

  • PVC, Polyolefins, PS, ABS, engineering polymers,
  • Silicone items
  • Rubber items in a vast array, such as gaskets, stoppers and playground balls.
polished shoe with buffing material

Polishing And Buffing

Although not a major use, red iron oxide finds use as a mild abrasive, used especially for high-value cleaning and finishing applications, such as:

  • Powder – usually mixed with an emollient and used for polishing fine silver.
  • Waxes and greases – used for polishing metals, antiques and reproductions.
  • Jeweller’s rouge – light abrasive used with a soft cloth for final polishing on fine metals in jewelry and lenses.

Emulsions And Coverings

Perhaps as a natural extension of being a wide ranging pigment for ceramics, red iron oxide is used in paints and coverings to provide both colouration and other benefits:

  • Paints – acrylic, tempura, fresco, watercolors, oil based, and rust-hindering versions.
  • Primer for metal and wood – creates a solid layer to hinder rust and bleed-through.
  • Glazes – for ceramics to provide all shades and tints of pink to maroon.
  • Stains – used for wood and plaster applications.
  • Fingernail polish

Drilling Applications

One of hematite’s major applications is in the drilling space, particularly for oil and gas. Hematite lends itself to be included in drilling muds where its properties mean that wetting is reduced and enhanced flow properties may be observed. Drilling tends to proceed via the addition of muds, as below, and hematite acts in many scenarios as a weighting material - i.e. a material that increases the mud’s density.

Hematite In Oil Based Mud (OBM)

OBMs have oil based continuous phases and are particularly susceptible to wetting, which is where water adheres to the solids in the mud, which then may cause excess water to reach the drilling area, and this can result in clumping of the solids. Excess solids will lead to inefficiencies in the drilling process, a poorer extraction of the resource and likely degradation of the drill bit and associated tooling. Hematite is a low-wetting material, and therefore the use of this over other weighting materials will reduce the likelihood of wetting taking place(1).

Hematite In Water Based Mud (WBM)

In WBM scenarios, hematite can be used in quantities of up to 20% by weight in the mud which has an aqueous continuous phase, with a notable decrease in sedimentation relative to commonly used borite due to the high iron oxide content(2), this lower sedimentation paradigm reduces wear on the tooling and therefore a lower requirement for lubrication.

Hematite And Rheology

Rheology is the flow of matter, and of significance in the drilling space, the plastic flow of solids. Plastic flow is a movement proportional to an applied force, and in petroleum exploration, a shape or phase change resulting from such a force. Solids have profound impacts on rheological performances of muds, and so adding red iron oxide will have an effect. Consistent particle size is easily achievable with red iron oxide and highly important in terms of rheology. Across many studies, hematite has been shown to have higher density values, better gelling ability and higher plastic viscosity than the commonly used barite(3), with excellent performance at deep boring depths, therefore providing for more stable bore holes and more stable drilling.

frame being painted with red iron oxide paint

Fluxes For Ceramics And Glazes

In the ceramic glazing space, a flux is a material that ensures a lower temperature is required to make the ceramic glaze or bulk ceramic material, prior to firing, thereby reducing the overall energy requirement. Under reducing atmospheres, red iron oxide behaves as a flux, also affording the benefit of a more fluid melt. Under non-reducing (i.e. oxidising) conditions, red iron oxide behaves as an antiflux in a glaze melt and therefore provides a stiffer melt.

Other Uses

As A Food Safe Additive

‘Red 101’ is a United States Food and Drug Administration-approved additive for food and other products which will not cause harm when used at low quantities, and is used in applications as diverse as:

  • Dental composites,
  • Cosmetics and beauty & personal care goods, where red iron oxide has been used since the 1990s. Highly sought for cosmetics for being non-toxic, moisture resistant and not known to cause allergic reactions (even in those with sensitive skin). Adding titanium oxides, many shades of lighter red to pink are created. Used in many products including lip gloss, lipstick, blush, eye shadow, soaps, lotions, creams, powders, soaps, facial and body masks, and scrubbing salts.
  • Tattoo inks. Although not a primary pigment, the use of iron oxide is regarded as acceptable, but it may not afford the longest lasting colour.

Fillers

Used in a paste style materials for smoothing out imperfections and deep scratches on cars, wood, or metal-based items. Once dried and sanded, can be primed and painted to perfection.

Biomedical

The nanoparticle form can be used in unique applications for medical purposes using its paramagnetic properties such as reverberation imaging, marking carcinogenic tissues, attractively controlled delivery of pharmaceuticals, and thermotherapy.

Electronics

Used in nanoparticle form, for the processing and data storage in tape form.

Radiation Barriers

Hematite can be a component in calamine lotions – this well known shade of pink uses hematite at a mere 0.5% , as the active ingredient to relieve mild itching.

High Heat-Resistance Coatings

Although not used as a primary containment method due to the alkali-silica reaction, as hematite is not immune to this reaction, hematite is used as part of concrete and ceramic radiation barriers used around nuclear power plants and other radiative environments. Hematite is resistant to neutron and gamma radiation over long periods of time, at elevated temperatures, especially when as part of a concrete slab. Hematite is typically used at concentrations of 10 to 50 volume%. Because of hematite’s high density, less of it needs to be used, meaning a thinner concrete/ceramic is required overall.

Antipruritic Properties

Used for boilers, flues, and ovens for temperatures up to 90 Celsius. Can be used on the interior or exterior surfaces.

Safety Considerations

As mentioned above, hematite is non-toxic. The only potential hazard is lung irritation that comes from inhaling excess amounts of fine dust. Mitigation is via careful mixing of the iron oxide powder when used and to use appropriate personal protective equipment.

Summary

  • Hematite is a naturally occurring ore of iron, and is often sold as red iron oxide
  • Primarily used as a source of iron, red iron oxide has many other uses
  • Red iron oxide is used as a pigment/dye/colourant for many materials including ceramics, glasses, glazes and even food
  • Its resistance to heat and antipruritic properties mean that it is often used for casings and coverings. Additionally, red iron oxide is used as a flux in ceramic and glaze production

 

African Pegmatite is a leading miner, miller and processor of the highest quality red iron oxide for a wealth of applications. Available in any quantity and processed to the exacting specifications of a customer, African Pegmatite is the go to industrial partner for the supply of red iron oxide and a wide variety of other minerals for the most demanding projects.

red headed matches

References

1          J. T. Cline et al., Wettability Preferences of Minerals Used in Oil-Based Drilling Fluids, in: SPE International Symposium on Oilfield Chemistry, Houston, 1989

2          P. Ranjan and A. Dutta, Int. J. Dev. Res., 2017, 7, 16806

3          P. O. Ogbeide and S. A. Igbinere, FUTOJNLS, 2016, 2, 68