I've tried searching with Google as well as on this website, but I haven't been able to find even a question asking about it. It was something that I was just curious about, but my limited knowledge in Chemistry has prevented me from testing anything or realizing how to phrase my question in a way that an answer can be found.

All in all, can steel be made also from the other elements in the carbon group, such as silicon or germanium?

And would the steel be stronger or weaker if it can be made?

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    $\begingroup$ Germanium is not in the same group as Iron. Neither ruthenium nor osmium has the same phase diagram with carbon as iron does. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Dec 4, 2020 at 18:02
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    $\begingroup$ No ! Steel is made of iron, plus some other elements $\endgroup$
    – Maurice
    Commented Dec 4, 2020 at 18:02
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    $\begingroup$ Well, hypothetically, if we would break heavier germanium nuclei to nuclei of light elements e.g. by high energy proton bombardment, and then if we fused these light nuclei in particle accelerators to iron nuclei, we could make steel from germanium by some carbon addition. The problem is, current technology would be able to provide just few iron atoms this way. $\endgroup$
    – Poutnik
    Commented Dec 5, 2020 at 12:29
  • $\begingroup$ Since this question has been revived, a simple answer is that even carbon is slightly too large for the interstitial voids in iron which it occupies in steels. Germanium is larger even than iron and would require much greater distortion of the iron lattice in order to fit between the iron atoms. $\endgroup$
    – Andrew
    Commented Jan 23, 2022 at 17:13

2 Answers 2



Steel is a generic term referring to an alloy containing iron and carbon (with iron as the main component) and various types/qualities of steel contain many other additional elements, e.g. nickel, chrome, manganese, etc. to give or enhance different properties in the alloy.

If it is not iron-based, it is not steel.

As for alloys using metals from the same group as iron, firstly, germanium is not part of that group.

All of the elements that do form part of that group (Fe, Co, Ni, Ru, Rh, Pd, Os, Ir, Pt) can be and are used in alloys, (although carbon addition does not have the same influence on their properties), osmium not so much as it is a pain to store or process. Some of those alloys are indeed "stronger than steel", for some definitions of stronger, but most of these elements are a lot less abundant and a lot more expensive than iron.

No one is going to use platinum, palladium, rhodium, etc. to make rebar or railway lines.


Germanium, as pointed out by Martin below, is however part of the same group as carbon. It and the other elements in that group can also be used in alloys, like carbon, but their properties are different (carbon is non-metallic, silicon and germanium are mettaloids and the heavier elements are metals) and they do not have the same effect on the properties of iron in an alloy. Germanium, when added to tin alloys, however, has been shown to significantly increase the hardness of the alloy, and as discussed below, it helps tarnish and firescale resistance in silver. One also needs to remember that while silicon and carbon are abundant, germanium is not, and as it is critical in many high tech applications, what is available is not likely to be squandered on experiments for improving steel.

Now, I am going to go away and think about simple, not too technical ways of explaining why, it works this way or finding references that will do it better and will further edit this answer appropriately later.

  • $\begingroup$ And if you thought cable theft is bad, imagine how quickly thieves would make off with your railway lines if they did use platinum in the alloy ... $\endgroup$
    – Gwyn
    Commented Dec 4, 2020 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ Platinum-osmium alloys are a thing (very hard), but certainly aren't steel. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Dec 4, 2020 at 19:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Jon Custer Yup. But seriously. Storing and processing osmium is a b ... bear. Plus you have to practically replace the walls every few months and you don't wanna know what the filters for the respirators cost for the personnel working with it. Ask anyone who had the joy of working in a precious metals refinery. $\endgroup$
    – Gwyn
    Commented Dec 4, 2020 at 19:39
  • $\begingroup$ for sure, the whole OsO4 sublimating at room temperature and being teratogenic is pretty off-putting... $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Dec 4, 2020 at 19:49
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    $\begingroup$ The question (admittedly unclearly phrased) makes sense if you realise that germanium is in the same group as carbon, not in the same group as iron. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 5, 2020 at 10:12

Silicon, the element in Grouo 14 directly below carbon, is widely used in steels, especially in electrical steels and more recently in high-strength automotive steels.

Silicon does not replace carbon; it's a separate alloying element just as chromium or manganese would be. Although silicon is in the same group as carbon, the difference in atomic size means it does not fit interstially into the fcc iron lattice (where carbon has significant solubility when hot) or form the hard phases that carbon does upon cooling for strength. Instead, like most metals used in steel, it substitutes for iron atoms in the lattice. But it can impact the surface texture grain structure that impacts electrical steel applications, as well as the phase structure created in the presence of the carbon for the high-strength applications.

Heavier Group 14 elements are less commonly alloyed into steel. Germanuum is expensive, and tin and lead are often undesirable because the formation of low-melting liquids and impact hot mill processing or welding (hot shortness). However, they may be used in specialty applications such as lwad in free-machining steels.


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