Properties & Uses of Compounds of Group 3 Elements

Instructor: Korry Barnes

Korry has a Ph.D. in organic chemistry and teaches college chemistry courses.

This lesson will focus primarily on chemical compounds containing group 3 elements from the periodic table, specifically those containing boron and aluminum. We will get a brief survey of the properties and uses of the given compounds.

Group 3 Wonders

Need to wash your clothes or put out a fire? Chances are you will probably need a group 3 compound. Although chemical compounds that contain group 3 elements aren't nearly as publicized or popular as things like iron, carbon, or oxygen, what we will hopefully get after this lesson is a deeper appreciation for this particular group of elements in the periodic table and see how important they really are.

In terms of the importance of a specific group of elements, the elements found in group 3 of the periodic table (the third column) would certainly rank high on the list for a lot of people. The elements found in group 3 of the periodic table are unique to say the least, especially boron and aluminum. Boron and aluminum are classified as metalloids, which means they have properties of both metals and non-metals. This makes them very versatile in terms of their uses and application to things we take for granted on a daily basis.

Boron and aluminum are definitely the most important elements in group 3 of the periodic table. Compounds containing these elements find a wide variety of applications in everyday life. Let's get started and see what boron and aluminum can do!

Important Compounds Containing Group 3 Elements

Let's get started by talking about a few chemical compounds that contain group 3 elements. We will limit our discussion to compounds that contain either boron or aluminum.

Boron-Containing Compounds

Borax, also referred to as sodium borate, is a salt of boric acid and finds use in the cosmetics industry, as a detergent for washing, a fire retardant, and even an anti-fungal compound in some cases. Borax is a white powdery substance that dissolves quite readily in water.

Powdered borax

Boric acid, the acid-form of borax, is another important boron-containing compound. Boric acid is most commonly used as an insecticide and antiseptic, but it is also a great reagent in chemical synthesis and serves as a Lewis acid. We'll talk more about Lewis acids later in the lesson. To make boric acid, we can simply take borax and react it with hydrochloric acid. It's that simple!

Aluminum-Containing Compounds

Of the vast array of compounds that contain aluminum, aluminum chloride (AlCl3) is one of the most common and important. Aluminum chloride is a white/light yellow crystalline solid, and one of the most commonly employed Lewis acids in chemical synthesis. It can be prepared industrially on large scales by reacting aluminum metal with molecular chlorine at elevated temperatures. Importantly, aluminum chloride is often used in many products such as antiperspirants.

Aluminum alloys (an alloy is a mixture of metals) play an important role in the production of automobile wheels and other metal parts on our vehicles today. Although an aluminum alloy cannot always replace a steel material for strength and durability reasons, its cost-effectiveness sometimes makes it an attractive alternative in certain applications.

Less Common Group 3 Element-Containing Compounds

Although less common than compounds containing boron and aluminum, gallium is a group 3 element that finds use in the field of semiconductors, electronics, and is also used to make metal alloys that have low melting points. Gallium is a soft, brittle material at low temperatures and actually a liquid above temperatures of about 30 degrees celsius.

Both indium and thallium are group 3 elements that actually don't exist as elements in nature, but rather as ionic salts in the earth's core. If you wanted to isolate the pure element, you would have to perform some chemical reactions to tease the metalloid out in pure form.

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