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The potent reducing power of hot magnesium is useful in preparing some metals from their oxides. Indeed, magnesium’s affinity for oxygen is so great that burning magnesium reacts with carbon dioxide, producing elemental carbon:

2Mg ( s ) + CO 2 ( g ) 2MgO ( s ) + C ( s )

For this reason, a CO 2 fire extinguisher will not extinguish a magnesium fire. Additionally, the brilliant white light emitted by burning magnesium makes it useful in flares and fireworks.

Group 12

The elements in group 12 are transition elements; however, the last electron added is not a d electron, but an s electron. Since the last electron added is an s electron, these elements qualify as representative metals, or post-transition metals. The group 12 elements behave more like the alkaline earth metals than transition metals. Group 12 contains the four elements zinc, cadmium, mercury, and copernicium. Each of these elements has two electrons in its outer shell ( ns 2 ). When atoms of these metals form cations with a charge of 2+, where the two outer electrons are lost, they have pseudo-noble gas electron configurations. Mercury is sometimes an exception because it also exhibits an oxidation state of 1+ in compounds that contain a diatomic Hg 2 2+ ion. In their elemental forms and in compounds, cadmium and mercury are both toxic.

Zinc is the most reactive in group 12, and mercury is the least reactive. (This is the reverse of the reactivity trend of the metals of groups 1 and 2, in which reactivity increases down a group. The increase in reactivity with increasing atomic number only occurs for the metals in groups 1 and 2.) The decreasing reactivity is due to the formation of ions with a pseudo-noble gas configuration and to other factors that are beyond the scope of this discussion. The chemical behaviors of zinc and cadmium are quite similar to each other but differ from that of mercury.

Zinc and cadmium have lower reduction potentials than hydrogen, and, like the alkali metals and alkaline earth metals, they will produce hydrogen gas when they react with acids. The reaction of zinc with hydrochloric acid, shown in [link] , is:

Zn ( s ) + 2H 3 O + ( a q ) + 2Cl ( a q ) H 2 ( g ) + Zn 2+ ( a q ) + 2Cl ( a q ) + 2H 2 O ( l )
A glass tube holding a metallic solid in a colorless liquid is shown laying on a black background with white lettering.
Zinc is an active metal. It dissolves in hydrochloric acid, forming a solution of colorless Zn 2+ ions, Cl ions, and hydrogen gas.

Zinc is a silvery metal that quickly tarnishes to a blue-gray appearance. This change in color is due to an adherent coating of a basic carbonate, Zn 2 (OH) 2 CO 3 , which passivates the metal to inhibit further corrosion. Dry cell and alkaline batteries contain a zinc anode. Brass (Cu and Zn) and some bronze (Cu, Sn, and sometimes Zn) are important zinc alloys. About half of zinc production serves to protect iron and other metals from corrosion. This protection may take the form of a sacrificial anode (also known as a galvanic anode, which is a means of providing cathodic protection for various metals) or as a thin coating on the protected metal. Galvanized steel is steel with a protective coating of zinc.

Sacrificial anodes

A sacrificial anode, or galvanic anode, is a means of providing cathodic protection of various metals. Cathodic protection refers to the prevention of corrosion by converting the corroding metal into a cathode. As a cathode, the metal resists corrosion, which is an oxidation process. Corrosion occurs at the sacrificial anode instead of at the cathode.

The construction of such a system begins with the attachment of a more active metal (more negative reduction potential) to the metal needing protection. Attachment may be direct or via a wire. To complete the circuit, a salt bridge is necessary. This salt bridge is often seawater or ground water. Once the circuit is complete, oxidation (corrosion) occurs at the anode and not the cathode.

The commonly used sacrificial anodes are magnesium, aluminum, and zinc. Magnesium has the most negative reduction potential of the three and serves best when the salt bridge is less efficient due to a low electrolyte concentration such as in freshwater. Zinc and aluminum work better in saltwater than does magnesium. Aluminum is lighter than zinc and has a higher capacity; however, an oxide coating may passivate the aluminum. In special cases, other materials are useful. For example, iron will protect copper.

Questions & Answers

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Practice Key Terms 8

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Source:  OpenStax, Chemistry. OpenStax CNX. May 20, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11760/1.9
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