Carbon, also known as C on the periodic table, is a chemical element with atomic number 6. Carbon is a nonmetallic element with electron configuration [He] 2s2 2p2. This element is the fourth most abundant element in the whole universe. The name carbon is derived from carbo, a Latin word. It was first discovered and used by ancient civilizations in Egypt, Sumeria and China. Antoine Lavoisier, a renowned French chemist, found that diamonds were just one of many forms of carbon. He got this idea after an experiment, when he realized that heated charcoal and diamonds released the same level of carbon dioxide.
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This chemical element has a remarkable ability to bind itself with other elements and itself. Carbon also can form chains of identical atoms and form strong covalent bonds with other atoms. Therefore, the amount of organic compounds that involve carbon are more than a million. You may also read: Basic Laws of Chemistry.
The physical properties of carbon are varied depending on its allotropes. While graphite is known for being soft and opaque, diamonds are sturdy and transparent. Graphite has a high electrical conductivity, whereas diamonds are a terrible electrical conductor. The allotropes of carbon are mostly in solid forms. They are resistant against chemical attack and solvent reaction, and they also need a certain condition to react with oxygen.
Because carbon is very common in nature, its existence has been used for different purposes for millennia, from industrial to medical companies. Additionally, carbon is an essential element in the human body and other living organisms. Here are six well-known carbon uses in daily life:
- Carbon as fuel
Humans have been using many forms of carbon as fuel since milleniums ago. Carbon as fuel is widely used because the ingredients can be easily obtained from nature. There are two different types of carbon-based fuel, fossil fuels and biofuels. Biofuels are acquired from organic living matter while fossil fuels are drawn out from the remains of prehistoric living organisms.
Both fuels have their own benefits and disadvantageous. Biofuels are renewable but it takes more time to harvest a viable biofuel matters. Fossil fuels on the other hand can be easily extracted from nature, but excessive excavation may deplete the resources since fossil fuels are not renewable.
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Ethanol and biodiesel are two of many types of biofuels. Ethanol fuel is largely used by many countries, especially in Brazil. This biologically-produced alcohol is derived from plants, the fermentation of sugar, starches or cellulose. These components can be turned into ethanol through fermentation, distillation, enzyme digestion and drying. Ethanol is famous as a replacement for gasoline even though it takes more ethanol to emit the same energy as gasoline. It is because ethanol has lower energy density than gasoline.
Biodiesel is produced from oils or fats of animals and plants. Animal fats and vegetable oils will be processed through transesterification. Any diesel engine can use biodiesel as its fuel, from commercial trucks to branded vehicles. The government of the United States has implemented the use of biodiesel on their mass transportation system and various government fleets.
Fossil fuel is any hydrocarbon material that is processed as a source of energy. Some examples of fossil fuels are coal, petroleum and natural gas. The production of fossil fuels have begun since million years ago when prehistoric animals and plants ruled the whole planet. When they died, their remains and organic waste are covered in muds, sands and soils. Later, a great decomposition caused by high pressure and microorganisms would turn materials into major energy sources. However, that’s the carbon uses in daily life.
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- Carbon in textile industry
The textile industry uses carbon fibers and carbon-containing polymers for their products because they are strong, resistant to chemical reactions and have a good tolerance to different temperatures. Cellulose or (C6H10O5)n is an essential ingredient in clothing industry. This organic compound is responsible for the production of plant fibers such as cotton and linen. Cellulose can also be turned into rayon, an artificial regenerated purified cellulose. Many textile companies use rayon in everyday clothes and home furnishings.
Besides carbon fibers from plants, animals also produce textile fiber for example, silk, wool, horsehair and alpaca fleece. High-end fashion industries have been manufacturing a variety of clothing from these animal fibers because of their authenticity, impressive quality and the glamorous feel.
- Graphite and its uses
Graphite is a form crystalline carbon. This natural element mineral is found in rocks that have been modified by heat, pressure and solidification. Graphite is very soft and extremely light. It is also resistant to heat and reactions with other materials. Graphite deposits are commonly found in the Earth’s crust. There are three different types of natural graphite—graphite from regional metamorphism, amorphous and lump graphite.
The uses of graphite in daily life are varied. Some companies use graphite to produce heat in glass manufacture because it can produce an immense heat during the molding process. Battery companies use graphite as an electrode because it can conduct electricity within its carbon layers. Graphite is even used as neutron moderator in nuclear reactors due to its ability to reduce the speed of fast neutrons.
In addition to its various use in technology industry, graphite is also beneficial for everyday use. The discovery of large graphite deposits in England in 1500s brought a drastic change in pencil production. The tip and core of pencils were mostly made from lead or Pb back then, but companies started to use graphite after the important discovery.
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- Carbon and diamonds
It is no wonder that diamond is one of the most valuable jewelry in the world. But what most people do not realize is that diamond typically contains 99.5 percent carbon. Diamond is an allotrope of carbon and the only gem made of a single element. What makes diamond different from graphite is that diamond has solid physical quality and higher thermal conductivity.
Scientists believe that Indian civilizations mined and used diamonds for rituals and other religious activities centuries ago. Since then, people view diamonds as precious and highly-regarded status symbol. People also link diamonds to beauty and perfection.
Other than its role as a gemstone, there are also several industrial applications of diamonds. Diamonds windows are used as covers in lasers and vacuum chambers due to its durability and tolerance to heat. Prestigious audio manufacturers also use diamonds to enhance the characters of their products because diamonds can vibrate sound swiftly without sacrificing the quality. Diamonds are also used in heat sinks and tiny mechanical devices.
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- The many benefits of carbon blacks
Let’s check out more carbon uses in daily life. Carbon blacks are particles of elemental carbon that are produced by incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons. Carbon blacks are 97% elemental carbon. Their surfaces have chemisorbed oxygen complexes depending on the production method.
This material can be found in tires and plastic products. The printing and art industries also use carbon blacks as black pigments in ink, laser printer toner, oil paint and water colors. Electronic companies use carbon blacks as electrical conductor in their devices. Lastly, carbon blacks are believed to be in top 50 most used chemical materials in the world.
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- Carbon in medicine
Health experts have developed carbon to advance their medical treatments of particular diseases. Carbon can absorb dangerous materials such as toxins and poisonous gasses in the digestive system. Even though carbon only constitutes 18% of body mass, it is extremely important in the formation of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Carbon is essential in cellular respiration to produce energy for human activities. Activated charcoal can save someone’s life because doctors will use it to treat chemical poisonings and overdose from drugs.
Carbon nanotubes or CNTs are important in medical and optical industries because of its exceptional thermal conductivity and other chemical and physical properties. Scientists have been trying to use carbon nanotubes in health monitoring and various methods of disease treatments. CNTs have potential as a means to transport medicinal drugs in the human body. Nanotubes are expected to enhance the efficiency of drug delivery in tumor and cancer cases.
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Doctor also see the potential of CNTs in modern medical industry as a method to treat cancer patients painlessly and free from side effects. These kind of outcomes are favorable because today’s cancer treatments involve surgery and chemotherapy, which are not convenient for patients and sometimes cause side effects. Chemotherapy, for example, can cause hair loss, fatigue, anemia and many more. In addition, there are many carbon uses in daily life.
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