|Name: lanthanum||Group number: 0|
|Symbol: La||Group name: Lanthanoid|
|Atomic number: 57||Period number: 6|
|Atomic weight: 138.9055 (2) g||Block: f-block|
|CAS Registry ID: 7439-91-0||Voice: |
|Standard state: solid at 298 K||Colour: silvery white|
|Classification: Metallic||Availability: |
This sample is from The Elements Collection, an attractive and safely packaged collection of the 92 naturally occurring elements that is available for sale.
Lanthanum is silvery white, malleable, ductile, and soft enough to be cut with a knife. It is one of the most reactive of the rare-earth metals. It oxidises rapidly when exposed to air. Cold water attacks lanthanum slowly, and hot water attacks it much more rapidly. The metal reacts directly with elemental carbon, nitrogen, boron, selenium, silicon, phosphorus, sulphur, and with halogens. It is a component of, misch metal (used for making lighter flints).
IsolationHere is a brief summary of the isolation of lanthanum.
Lanthanum 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 separate it from 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 lanthanum is available through the reduction of LaF3 with calcium metal.
2LaF3 + 3Ca 2La + 3CaF2
This would work for the other calcium halides as well but the product CaF2 is easier to handle under the reaction conditions (heat to 50°C above the melting point of the element in an argon atmosphere). Excess calcium is removed from the reaction mixture under vacuum.