Barium A chemical element, Ba, with atomic number 56 and atomic weight of 137.34. Barium is eighteenth in abundance in the Earth’s crust, where it is found to the extent of 0.04%, making it intermediate in amount between calcium and strontium, the other alkaline-earth metals. Barium compounds are obtained from the mining and conversion of two barium minerals. Barite, barium sulfate, is the principal ore and contains 65.79% barium oxide. Witherite, sometimes called heavy spar, is barium carbonate and is 72% barium oxide.
The metal was first isolated by Sir Humphry Davy in 1808 by electrolysis. Industrially, only small amounts are prepared by aluminum reduction of barium oxide in large retorts. These are used in barium-nickel alloys for spark-plug wire (the barium increases the emissivity of the alloy) and in frary metal, which is an alloy of lead, barium, and calcium used in place of babbitt metal because it can be cast.
The metal reacts with water more readily than do strontium and calcium, but less readily than sodium; it oxidizes quickly in air to form a surface film that inhibits further reaction, but in moist air it may inflame. The metal is sufficiently active chemically to react with most nonmetals. Freshly cut pieces have a lustrous gray-white appearance, and the metal is both ductile and malleable. The physical properties of the elementary form are given in the table.
For the manufacture of barium compounds, soft (easily crushable) barite is preferred, but crystalline varieties may be used. Crude barite is crushed and then mixed with pulverized coal. The mixture is roasted in a rotary reduction furnace, and the barium sulfate is thus reduced to barium sulfide or black ash. Black ash is roughly 70% barium sulfide and is treated with hot water to make a solution used as the starting material for the manufacture of many compounds.
Lithopone, a white powder consisting of 20% barium sulfate, 30% zinc sulfide, and less than 3% zinc oxide, is widely used as a pigment in white paints. Blanc fixe is used in the manufacture of brilliant coloring compounds. It is the best grade of barium sulfate for paint pigments. Because of the large absorption of x-rays by barium, the sulfate is used to coat the alimentary tract for x-ray photographs in order to increase the contrast. Barium carbonate is useful in the ceramic industry to prevent efflorescence on claywares. It is used also as a pottery glaze, in optical glass, and in rat poisons. Barium chloride is used in purifying salt brines, in chlorine and sodium hydroxide manufacture, as a flux for magnesium alloys, as a water softener in boiler compounds, and in medicinal preparations. Barium nitrate, or the so-called baryta saltpeter, finds use in pyrotechnics and signal flares (to produce a green color), and to a small extent in medicinal preparations. Barium oxide, known as baryta or calcined baryta, finds use both as an industrial drying agent and in the case-hardening of steels. Barium peroxide is sometimes used as a bleaching agent. Barium chromate, lemon chrome or chrome yellow, is used in yellow pigments and safety matches. Barium chlorate finds use in the manufacture of pyrotechnics. Barium acetate and cyanide are used industrially as a chemical reagent and in metallurgy, respectively.