One primary use of iron as a catalyst is in the formation of ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen. Known as the Haber process, this chemical reaction is a standard manufacturing technique in the chemical industry.
Catalysts are substances that increase the rate of a chemical reaction by lowering the activation energy required for the reaction to occur. Iron provides an inexpensive alternative to the costly and often toxic catalysts that are more commonly used.
In the Haber process, iron is not utilized in its natural form. Instead, the metal is coated with potassium hydroxide that acts as a promoter. This substance boosts the efficiency of iron in speeding up the chemical reaction. Other uses for iron-based compounds include the catalysis of carbon to carbon bond formations and carbon to hydrogen functionalization reactions.