Antimony(III) oxide is the inorganic compound with the formula Sb2O3. It is the most important commercial compound of antimony. It is found in nature as the minerals valentinite and senarmontite. Like most polymeric oxides, Sb2O3 dissolves in aqueous solutions with hydrolysis.
Global production of antimony(III) oxide in 2012 was 130,000 tonnes, an increase from 112,600 tonnes in 2002. China produces the largest share followed by US/Mexico, Europe, Japan and South Africa and other countries (2%).
As of 2010, antimony(III) oxide was produced at four sites in EU27. It is produced via two routes, re-volatilizing of crude antimony(III) oxide and by oxidation of antimony metal. Oxidation of antimony metal dominates in Europe. Several processes for the production of crude antimony(III) oxide or metallic antimony from virgin material. The choice of process depends on the composition of the ore and other factors. Typical steps include mining, crushing and grinding of ore, sometimes followed by froth flotation and separation of the metal using pyrometallurgical processes (smelting or roasting) or in a few cases (e.g. when the ore is rich in precious metals) by hydrometallurgical processes. These steps do not take place in the EU but closer to the mining location.
Antimony(III) oxide is an amphoteric oxide, it dissolves in aqueous sodium hydroxide solution to give the meta-antimonite NaSbO2, which can be isolated as the trihydrate. Antimony(III) oxide also dissolves in concentrated mineral acids to give the corresponding salts, which hydrolyzes upon dilution with water. With nitric acid, the trioxide is oxidized to antimony(V) oxide.
When heated with carbon, the oxide is reduced to antimony metal. With other reducing agents such as sodium borohydride or lithium aluminium hydride, the unstable and very toxic gas stibine is produced. When heated with potassium bitartrate, a complex salt potassium antimony tartrate, KSb(OH)2•C4H2O6 is formed.
The annual consumption of antimony(III) oxide in the United States and Europe is approximately 10,000 and 25,000 tonnes, respectively. The main application is as flame retardant synergist in combination with halogenated materials. The combination of the halides and the antimony being key to the flame-retardant action for polymers, helping to form less flammable chars. Such flame retardants are found in electrical apparatus, textiles, leather, and coatings.
Antimony(III) oxide is an opacifying agent for glasses, ceramics and enamels. Some specialty pigments contain antimony. Antimony(III) oxide is a useful catalyst in the production of polyethylene terephthalate (PET plastic) and the vulcanization of rubber.
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