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Molybdenum is a metallic element and is a silvery-white, soft substance. The primary uses of molybdenum are as an addition to construction steels and irons, as a catalyst, as a pigment and as a flame retardant. When molybdenum is alloyed with steel, it makes the steel stronger and more heat-resistant. It is derived from the mineral molybdenite, which is mined in the southwestern United States, China, Chile, Russia and Mongolia.
The most significant of the uses of molybdenum is as an additive in steel and iron alloys. The addition of molybdenum improves the strength of steel and iron, reduces cracking and enables the metals to better withstand higher temperatures. In the early 21st century, about half of all mined molybdenum was used for iron and steel alloys in construction, tools, auto parts and steam turbines.
Another one of the uses of molybdenum is as a chemical catalyst. Molybdenum's versatile chemical structure and the ease with which it transitions between oxidation states makes it an attractive catalyst for scientists creating chemical reactions and syntheses in laboratories. One of the important energy-related uses of molybdenum is as a catalyst in the refining of fuel.
Molybate, a derivative of molybdenum, has an important application in the field of agriculture. As an essential trace element in plants, animals and humans, molybdenum plays an important role in the conversion of atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia. That fact makes the use of molybdenum in fertilizers a common occurrence.
Molybdenum is also added to pigments to make those colors more stable and less susceptible to corrosion. It is commonly mixed with bright red, orange and yellow pigments in inks, paint and plastics because it makes those colored products stand up better against exposure to light and heat. One of the less-common uses of molybdenum is a fire retardant because of its unique ability to suppress smoke. It has even been applied as a dry lubricant to the outside of spacecraft.
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