Group 13

Group 13

Group 13 contains the metalloid boron and the metals aluminum, gallium, indium, and thallium. The lightest element, boron, is semiconducting, and its binary compounds tend to be covalent and not ionic. The remaining elements of the group are metals, but their oxides and hydroxides change characters. The oxides and hydroxides of aluminum and gallium exhibit both acidic and basic behaviors. A substance, such as these two, that will react with both acids and bases is amphoteric.

This characteristic illustrates the combination of nonmetallic and metallic behaviors of these two elements. Indium and thallium oxides and hydroxides exhibit only basic behavior, in accordance with the clearly metallic character of these two elements. The melting point of gallium is unusually low (about 30 °C) and will melt in your hand.

Aluminum is amphoteric because it will react with both acids and bases. A typical reaction with an acid is:


The products of the reaction of aluminum with a base depend upon the reaction conditions, with the following being one possibility:


With both acids and bases, the reaction with aluminum generates hydrogen gas.

The group 13 elements have a valence shell electron configuration of ns2np1. Aluminum normally uses all of its valence electrons when it reacts, giving compounds in which it has an oxidation state of 3+. Although many of these compounds are covalent, others, such as AlF3 and Al2(SO4)3, are ionic. Aqueous solutions of aluminum salts contain the cation \({[\text{Al}{({\text{H}}_{2}\text{O})}_{6}]}^{3+},\) abbreviated as Al3+(aq). Gallium, indium, and thallium also form ionic compounds containing M3+ ions. These three elements exhibit not only the expected oxidation state of 3+ from the three valence electrons but also an oxidation state (in this case, 1+) that is two below the expected value. This phenomenon, the inert pair effect, refers to the formation of a stable ion with an oxidation state two lower than expected for the group. The pair of electrons is the valence s orbital for those elements.

In general, the inert pair effect is important for the lower p-block elements. In an aqueous solution, the Tl+(aq) ion is more stable than is Tl3+(aq). In general, these metals will react with air and water to form 3+ ions; however, thallium reacts to give thallium(I) derivatives. The metals of group 13 all react directly with nonmetals such as sulfur, phosphorus, and the halogens, forming binary compounds.

The metals of group 13 (Al, Ga, In, and Tl) are all reactive. However, passivation occurs as a tough, hard, thin film of the metal oxide forms upon exposure to air. Disruption of this film may counter the passivation, allowing the metal to react. One way to disrupt the film is to expose the passivated metal to mercury. Some of the metal dissolves in the mercury to form an amalgam, which sheds the protective oxide layer to expose the metal to further reaction. The formation of an amalgam allows the metal to react with air and water.

Optional Video:

Although easily oxidized, the passivation of aluminum makes it very useful as a strong, lightweight building material. Because of the formation of an amalgam, mercury is corrosive to structural materials made of aluminum. This video demonstrates how the integrity of an aluminum beam can be destroyed by the addition of a small amount of elemental mercury.

The most important uses of aluminum are in the construction and transportation industries, and in the manufacture of aluminum cans and aluminum foil. These uses depend on the lightness, toughness, and strength of the metal, as well as its resistance to corrosion. Because aluminum is an excellent conductor of heat and resists corrosion, it is useful in the manufacture of cooking utensils.

Aluminum is a very good reducing agent and may replace other reducing agents in the isolation of certain metals from their oxides. Although more expensive than reduction by carbon, aluminum is important in the isolation of Mo, W, and Cr from their oxides.

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