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Carbon – Definition, Properties, Occurrence, Applications

  • Last Updated : 10 Nov, 2021

Carbon is a chemical element with the symbol C and atomic number 6. It’s nonmetallic and tetravalent, which means it can form covalent chemical bonds with four electrons. It is in group 14 of the periodic table. Carbon accounts for only about 0.025% of the Earth’s crust. Carbon is the 15th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust and, by mass, the fourth most abundant element in the universe, following hydrogen, helium, and oxygen. Carbon’s abundance, the unique diversity of organic compounds, and unusual ability to form polymers at common Earth temperatures allow it to serve as a common element of all known life. After oxygen, it is the second most abundant element in the human body by mass (about 18.5 %).

Properties of Carbon

Some of the important properties of Carbon elements are listed below:

  1. Carbon generates four electrons in order to form a covalent bond.
  2. It exists in a variety of allotropes and other forms. Diamond and graphite are two examples of materials with distinct properties.
  3. Under normal conditions, carbon is extremely inert.
  4. This chemical element is denoted by the symbol C.
  5. It has the atomic number 6 because it has 6 protons in its nucleus.
  6. Carbon is nonmetallic as well as tetravalent.
  7. It comes in a variety of shapes.
  8. The chemical element can form bonds with other elements.

Application of Carbon

  • It is a free element with numerous applications. These include using diamond or black pigment to decorate the rims of automobiles or printer ink.
  • Graphite is another type of carbon that has been used in high-temperature crucibles, arc lamp electrodes, dry cells, and pencil tips.
  • Another amorphous state of carbon is vegetal carbon, which is used as a bleaching agent and a gas absorbent.
  • They use carbon dioxide and a fire extinguisher to carbonate drinks.
  • Carbon in the solid form is known as dry ice.
  • Carbon monoxide is also useful for the reduction in a variety of metallurgical processes.
  • Carbon disulphide and carbon tetrachloride are two notable inclusions in industrial solvents.

Physical and Biological role of Carbon

Carbon is ranked 19th in the order of elemental abundance based on weight. It is estimated that the universe contains at least 3.5 times as many carbon atoms as silicon atoms. Except for carbon, only helium, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and neon are naturally abundant in the universe. When helium is burned, the cosmic product is carbon. Three helium nuclei with atomic weight 4 are fused in this process to produce a carbon nucleus with atomic weight 12.

Elemental carbon is a minor complement in the Earth’s crust. Carbon is widely distributed in the form of coal and organic compounds. They are made up of natural gas, petroleum, and plant and animal tissue. Carbon is an essential component of the photosynthesis process. It is a natural chemical reaction sequence that involves the conversion of the carbon cycle to form atmospheric carbon dioxide and carbohydrates.

Occurrence of Carbon

Free State

After hydrogen, helium, and oxygen, carbon is the fourth most abundant chemical element in the observable universe by mass. Carbon is abundant in the sun, stars, comets, and most planets’ atmospheres. Some meteorites contain microscopic diamonds that formed when the solar system was still in the form of a protoplanetary disc.

The great majority of carbonate rock masses contain carbon (limestone, dolomite, marble and so on). Coal is the most abundant commercial source of mineral carbon and is very rich in carbon (anthracite contains 92–98 %). The majority of diamond deposits are found in Africa. Diamonds are now being recovered from the seafloor off the coast of the Cape of Good Hope. Diamonds are found naturally, but approximately 30% of all industrial diamonds used in the United States are now manufactured.

Combined State

Carbon can be found in the Earth’s atmosphere and is dissolved in all bodies of water. Carbon can also be found in hydrocarbons (such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas). Coal reserves are estimated to be around 900 gigatons. Carbon can also be found in methane hydrates found in the polar regions and beneath the seas. 

It can also be found in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons as natural gas and petroleum, cellulose in wood, and limestone in combined states. Carbon compounds such as calcium and magnesium carbonates aid in the formation of common minerals such as dolomite, magnesite, limestone, and marble. Furthermore, the shells of clams, oysters, and corals are calcium carbonate.

Sample Questions 

Question 1: What is the composition of carbon?


Six neutrons and six protons make up carbon. It is a chemical element known for its ability to create patterns.

Question 2: Define carbon from the perspective of molecular formation


Carbon can form polymers, which are resilient, long chains of carbon linked with the same chemical element. Because of electron management, it can form bonds with four different atoms. A cloud of electrons surrounds the nucleus in which the atoms are arranged.

Question 3: Why does graphite conducts electricity, but not a diamond?


In the case of diamond, each carbon atom in a single crystal is covalently bound to four other carbon atoms, forming the four corners of a regular tetrahedron. There are no free electrons available due to the four covalent bonds with each carbon atom. Diamond is a poor conductor of electricity due to the lack of free electrons within its crystalline structure.

Every carbon atom in a single crystal of graphite is covalently bonded to three other carbon atoms. Due to the fact that each carbon atom has four valence electrons, one valence electron is left free for each carbon atom. By applying electric potential, these free electrons can be easily made to flow within the crystalline structure of graphite. As a result, graphite is an excellent electrical conductor.

Question 4: What are the physical properties of carbon compounds?


The physical properties of carbon compounds are as follows:

  • Since they have covalent bonds between their atoms, they do not form ions. As a result, they are poor conductors of electrical current.
  • These substances have low melting and boiling points.
  • They are insoluble in water but soluble in organic solvents such as ether, carbon tetrachloride, and others.

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