Antimony is an element whose sulfide compound was used in ancient times as a cosmetic. Antimony was also encountered in its free form, but mistaken for a form of lead. Italian metallurgist Vannoccio Biringuccio in 1540 identified antimony as a distinct substance. Using the terms of alchemy, he recognized that antimony only behaves like a proper metal in part. Indeed, it is a metalloid.
Mining and Production
Antimony is not very common in the Earth's crust, being somewhat rarer than silver. It occurs as its sulfide, the mineral stibnite (right), and in other minerals. China was by far the world's largest producer of antimony in 2017 and was transitioning from being a net importer to a net exporter. China mined 110,000 tonnes, and another 40,000 tonnes of production was distributed among various countries.
Properties and Uses
Antimony is a metal to appearances, being silver and lustrous. It is, however, soft and brittle. Antimony is electrically conductive, though not as much as a true metal.
Antimony trioxide is used in flame retardants in combination with halogens such as bromine. The reaction of the two retards fire by claiming oxygen and hydrogen atoms liberated by the fire. This is the primary use of antimony.
Antimony alloys with lead to give it hardness and tensile strength. Thus, about 20% of antimony goes into the making of lead shot, pewter, lead-acid batteries, and other applications of lead. Consequently, the recycling of lead also recovers some antimony.
Miscellaneous uses of antimony include its compounds as pigments in paint.