The Chemistry of Unicycles

Introduction

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Unicycling is a challenging and exhilarating sport that challenges balance and endurance. Different kinds of unicycles enable the rider to perform different activities, ranging from mountain trails to riding five feet above the ground. I l love the challenge that unicycling brings, as well as how things are made, which is why I picked unicycles to research. My personal favorite way to ride the unicycle is to ride it on trails, where you would usually find mountain bikers or runners. I love the difficulty of trails, but just riding around town is a blast too, though (people’s reactions are the best). No matter the riding discipline, all unicycles are made of 3 basic materials: steel, aluminum, and rubber. Each of these pieces require chemistry to be created (of course).


Composition of ...

  • Steel

    • Starts with iron ore (FeO, Fe2O3 , and Fe3O4)

    • Coke into carbon monoxide 2C + O2 → 2CO

    • Carbon monoxide and iron ore changing into iron and  carbon dioxide 3CO + Fe2O3 → 2Fe + 3CO2

  • Aluminum alloy

    • Seatpost and rim are made of aluminum

    • Aluminum alloy is a combination of aluminum, copper, zinc, magnesium, manganese, silicon, titanium, and tin, but is made of 97% aluminum

  • Synthetic rubber

    • Polybutadiene

    • Black soot

    • mineral oil

    • Silica

    • zinc oxide

    • Sulfur


Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

  • Steel

Starts with iron ores (usually FeO, Fe2 O3 , and Fe3 O4) combined with limestone and coke. Coke (which is a fuel made of coal) converts into carbon monoxide (CO) which acts as a reducing agent

2 C + O2 → 2 CO (Coke into carbon monoxide)
3 CO + Fe2O3 → 2 Fe + 3 CO2(Carbon monoxide and iron ore changing into iron and  carbon dioxide)

Then the limestone reacts with the impurities of the molten iron and creates molten slag, separating the impurities from the iron. Then it’s poured into small ingot molds. The ingots are heated and stretched into seamless pipes, which are welded together to create the frame. Unicycle frames are made of an alloy steel, made of iron, carbon, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, silicon, and sulfur (but is 95% iron)

  • Rubber

Made from synthetic rubber, polybutadiene (synthesized by petroleum by products). The polybutadiene is mixed with black soot, mineral oil, silica, zinc oxide, and sulfur. These products are added to increase elasticity, durability, and grip. The mixture is kept in an insulated tank where it is constantly stirred, which is poured into three different molds (inner carcass, beads, and tread) then heated to combine into the tire.



Chemistry's Role

  • Steel

    • Chemistry is required to turn the iron ore into steel

      • Iron ore,  Fe O and Fe2 O3 are put into a blast furnace with coke (a fuel made of coal) where the coke is converted into carbon monoxide which acts as a reducing agent

      • 2C + O2 → 2CO (Coke into carbon monoxide)

      • 3CO + Fe2 O3 → 2Fe + 3CO2 (Carbon monoxide and iron ore changing into iron and  carbon dioxide)

      • After the iron is reduced it falls to the bottom of the furnace where it reacts with limestone and its impurities are turned into slag, which is drawn off from the iron

      • The iron ingots are then put in the steel furnace, where excess carbon is burned off and also where alloy ingredients are added:  carbon, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, silicon, and sulfur

      • Steel slabs are rolled into steel bars, which eventually will be welded together to create the frame

  • Rubber

    • Synthetic rubber starts with butadiene, a byproduct of steam cracking, which is a process that turns complex molecules from crude oil into simpler molecules using extreme temperatures

    • The butadiene polymerized in the lab, which links butadiene compounds to create a chain, which is polybutadiene

    • Polybutadiene is melted and is mixed with black soot, mineral oil, silica, zinc oxide, and sulfur

Background Research

  • Steel

    • Frame is made of steel, made from steel tubes welded together

    • Unicycle frames are made of an alloy steel, made of iron, carbon, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, silicon, and sulfur (95% iron)

    • Alloy made of iron and usually 1% carbon (sometimes manganese)

      • Starts with iron ores (usually FeO, Fe 2 O 3 , and Fe 3 O 4) combined with limestone and coke

      • Coke (which is a fuel made of coal) converts into carbon monoxide (CO) which acts as a reducing agent

        • 2 C + O 2 → 2 CO (Coke into carbon monoxide)

        • 3 CO + Fe 2 O 3 → 2 Fe + 3 CO 2 (Carbon monoxide and iron ore changing into iron and  carbon dioxide)

      • Then the limestone reacts with the impurities of the molten iron and creates molten slag, separating the impurities from the iron

      • Then poured into small ingot molds

  • Aluminum

    • Seatpost and rim are made of aluminum

    • Aluminum alloy is a combination of aluminum, copper, zinc, magnesium, manganese, silicon, titanium and tin (97% aluminum)

    • Aluminum rims

      • Molten aluminum flows into a mixer and mixes with argon gas, which allows for the removal of hydrogen which increases density

      • Poured into a mold/cooled

      • Heat treated which rearranges molecular structure and strengthens it

      • Quenches the rim, soaked in hot water which locks in strength

      • Computer controlled lathe trims down excess metal

      • Tested for air-tightness

      • Painted

    • Seatpost is an aluminum tube welded to a piece that attaches to the seat

  • Rubber (tires)

    • Made from synthetic rubber (synthesized by petroleum by products)

      • Artificial rubber is mixed with black soot (added for grip, which makes them black), mineral oil, silica, zinc oxide, and sulfur

        • Increases elasticity, durability, and grip

      • Lack of natural rubber in WWII spurred its development

      • Combination of refined butadiene and hexane with a catalyst

      • Creates polybutadiene, then another catalyst stops the reaction

      • The white milky liquid that leaves the tank is synthetic rubber

      • Additives are put into rubber for specific uses, like tires

      • Chemicals are stirred in

      • Mixture is kept in an insulated tank where it is constantly stirred

    • 3 different parts

    • Inner carcass

      • Rubber+nylon fiber for strength

    • Beads

      • Kevlar cables hold the tire on the rim

    • Tread

      • Combination of two types of hard wearing rubber on outside

    • All three components are basically wrapped on one another and put into a heating chamber, where they are melted together and the outer rubber expands to form the tread

Resources

About the Author

Wade Haesemeyer junior at Billings Senior High school and he is doing all honors classes and hopes that will help pay for the four years he will spend at a small liberal arts college somewhere not in Montana. Basically all he does is ride various transportation devices (bikes, unicycles, longboards), play his drums many different places, hangs out with friends, and does homework.








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