Europium: the essentials

Europium ignites in air at about 150 to 180°C. Europium is about as hard as lead and is quite ductile. It is the most reactive of the rare earth metals, quickly oxidising in air. It resembles calcium in its reaction with water. It is used in television screens to produce a red colour.

Table: basic information about and classifications of europium.

Europium: historical information

Europium was discovered by Eugene Demarcay at 1901 in France. Origin of name: named after "Europe".

The discovery of europium is generally credited to Eug/ne-Antole Demarcay, who separated the earth in reasonably pure form in 1901 from a material containing largely samarium. Pure europium metal was not isolated until much more recently.

Europium: physical properties

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Europium: orbital properties

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Isolation: europium metal is available commercially so it is not normally necessary to make it in the laboratory, which is just as well as it is difficult to isolate as the pure metal. This is largely because of the way it is found in nature. The lanthanoids are found in nature in a number of minerals. The most important are xenotime, monazite, and bastnaesite. The first two are orthophosphate minerals LnPO4 (Ln deonotes a mixture of all the lanthanoids except promethium which is vanishingly rare) and the third is a fluoride carbonate LnCO3F. Lanthanoids with even atomic numbers are more common. The most comon lanthanoids in these minerals are, in order, cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, and praseodymium. Monazite also contains thorium and ytrrium which makes handling difficult since thorium and its decomposition products are radioactive.

For many purposes it is not particularly necessary to separate the metals, but if separation into individual metals is required, the process is complex. Initially, the metals are extracted as salts from the ores by extraction with sulphuric acid (H2SO4), hydrochloric acid (HCl), and sodium hydroxide (NaOH). Modern purification techniques for these lanthanoid salt mixtures are ingenious and involve selective complexation techniques, solvent extractions, and ion exchange chromatography.

Pure europium is available through the electrolysis of a mixture of molten EuCl3 and NaCl (or CaCl2) in a graphite cell which acts as cathode using graphite as anode. The other product is chlorine gas.

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