Smelting iron ore in a microwave

As part of his attempt at manufacturing a toaster from scratch(!), Thomas Thwaites had to figure a way to smelt his own iron (for the grill piece) –

Finding ways to process the raw materials on a domestic scale is also an issue. For example, my first attempt to extract metal involved a chimney pot, some hair-dryers, a leaf blower, and a methodology from the 15th century – this is about the level of technology we can manage when we’re acting alone. I failed to get pure enough iron in this way, though if I’d tried a few more times and refined my technique and knowledge of the process I probably would’ve managed in the end. Instead I found a 2001 patent about industrial smelting of Iron ores using microwave energy.

Microwaves, as we all know, are just so much more convenient – and so I tried to replicate the industrial process outlined in the patent using a domestic microwave. After some not-so-careful experimentation which necessitated another microwave, followed by some careful experimentation, I got the timing and ingredients right and made a blob of iron about as big as a 10p coin.

It’ll be very interesting to see how this project turns out – see more of the process & progress on the Toaster Project site. [via Kottke]

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