A nonferrous alloy is a metal containing no iron. The word ferrous is a derivative of the Latin name for iron, ferrum, which means firmness. The chemical symbol for iron, Fe, also comes from this Latin name for the metal.
An alloy is a mixture including at least one metal and one other element. Some include two or more metals. Creating an alloy often results in a material that has greater strength than the substances from which it comes. For example, stainless steel, a ferrous alloy, combines iron and carbon to create an alloy that resists rust.
Brass and bronze are examples of nonferrous alloys. Their base metal is copper instead of iron. Engineers in the aircraft and aerospace industries often specify nonferrous alloys because they are lighter in weight, strong and resist corrosion. In other applications, they choose these materials due to their ability to conduct electricity.
The government mints coins with nonferrous alloys. It makes pennies from a copper alloy and nickels from a copper and nickel alloy. It makes the quarter using a similar cupronickel alloy to that of the nickel covering a pure copper center. In 2014, the only gold coins the mint produces are commemorative coins. The alloys used in coins allow them to remain in circulation for many years.