Periodic Table -> Carbon


Carbon Details

Carbon Symbol: C

Carbon Atomic Number: 6

Carbon Atomic Weight: 12.01115

What is Carbon?

Carbon (atomic number 6, symbol C) is a chemical element, which is tetravalent and nonmetallic. It is among the few elements that have been known to people since antiquity. Carbon has several allotropes, among which are amorphous carbon, diamond, and graphite. Depending on the allotropic form, carbon's physical properties can vary widely. Graphite, for instance, is black and opaque, while diamond is very transparent. Graphite is so soft that it can produce a streak on paper while diamond is one of the hardest materials. Graphite has good conductor properties, and diamond has poor electrical conductivity. At the same time, it has higher thermal conductivity than other materials under normal conditions.

Graphite is mostly used as a lubricant and is a form of carbon. While it occurs naturally, graphite is also made when petroleum coke is treated in an oxygen-free oven. In nature, graphite is found in its alpha and beta forms. Their properties are identical, but the alpha and beta have different crystal structure. The graphite, which is produced commercially, is an alpha type. Apart from being used as a lubricant, graphite is used in the production of steel in large amounts when in the form of coke. Coke is produced when soft coal is heated in an oven, not allowing oxygen to mix with it. When used in pencils, the black material is often called lead, which is actually graphite.

Amorphous carbon is produced by burning material which contains carbon without allowing oxygen to fully burn it. Lampblack, known as carbon black, channel black, and gas black is black soot. It is used to produce rubber, paints, and inks. Black soot can be made into shapes, forming the core of many dry cell batteries.

Carbon is an element with key importance to all living systems and life, in its present form, would not exist without it. Carbon has commercial importance as well. It is used as hydrocarbons, particularly crude oil and fossil fuel methane, with crude oil being used to produce kerosene and gasoline through distillation. Cellulose is a carbon-containing, natural polymer that plants produce in the form of hemp, linen, and cotton. Some carbon polymers are commercially valuable and of animal origin, including cashmere, wool, and silk. Plastics are produced from polymers with synthetic carbon origin, oftentimes with nitrogen and oxygen atoms included in the major chain. For a variety of such synthetic resources, the raw material is crude oil.

The uses of carbon compounds and carbon itself are quite varied. With iron, it forms alloys, of which carbon steel is the most common. In combination with clays, graphite forms the material to be used in pencils for drawing and writing. Carbon is also used as a molding material to manufacture glass, as a pigment, in electroforming and electroplating, in dry battery electrodes, and in brushes for electric motors. In addition, carbon is used in nuclear reactors as a neutron moderator.

Charcoal is used for grilling, as a drawing material, for iron smelting, and a variety of other processes. Oil, coal, and wood are used as fuel when space heating and energy are produced. Industrial diamonds are employed in polishing, cutting, and drilling tools for machining stone and metals. Diamonds of gem quality are used to make jewelry pieces.

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