A Plethora of Well-known Uses of Carbon That are Worth a Read

Uses of Carbon
Carbon has been known to man since time immemorial, and its uses are so vast and varied that to think of regular human life without the presence of carbon is next to impossible. Here's a look at some of the well-known uses of this precious element.
Carbon (C) is the 6th most abundant element found in the universe, and it has a variety of uses in our everyday lives. It can be found in group 14 of the Periodic Table, and the atomic number of carbon is 6. The uses of carbon, which is a non-metallic element, can be understood better once the properties of the element are clear.

Carbon is one of the most stable elements known to man. The primary source of carbon in today's world is the deposits of coal that are mined. There are 3 allotropes of carbon that are found naturally - graphite, diamonds, and amorphous carbon. The quality that highlights its many uses is that, this element can combine with almost any other element and form a variety of useful compounds. The most commonly found compounds of carbon are carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2).

Common Uses
In its elemental form, carbon may have limited uses. But this element has the ability to manifest itself into a very useful substance for a number of things once it combines with other elements. Here are some of the commonly found uses of this element.
  • Used as a decorative tool in jewelry items.
  • Fossil fuels like methane gas, crude oil, petrol, diesel, etc. contain high percentages of carbon. Even the cooking gas that we use is a hydrocarbon.
  • Carbon is used as a base for the ink that is used in inkjet printers.
  • It is used in the rims of automobiles as a black fume pigment.
  • Plastics are carbon polymers.
  • Vegetable carbon or activated carbon, is sometimes used as a bleaching agent, or a gas absorbent. It is widely used in filtration systems.
  • Carbon (in the form of carbon dioxide), is also used in fizzy drinks, fire extinguishers, and also as dry ice when it is in a solid state.
  • Daily use materials like perfumes, shoe polish, and carbon paper make use of carbon.
  • In metallurgy, carbon monoxide is used as a reduction agent in order to derive other elements and compounds.
  • Carbon in the form of 'Freon', is used in cooling devices and systems.
  • Many metal cutters, and heat-resistant tools and devices are also manufactured with carbon.
  • One of the most abundantly used materials on Earth, plastic, is produced from synthetic carbon polymers.
Uses in the Human Body
Apart from these uses, the human body also requires carbon at almost every stage of its development and existence.
  • Carbon acts as a macronutrient for the body in the form of carbohydrates. This is substantiated by the fact that every part of the body contains and requires large amounts of this element.
  • This element is used as a building block for many complex and important life processes. It is the carbon present in our bodies that brings the many diverse atoms inside the body together, and gets them to function, to aid growth, in a cohesive manner. About 18% of the human body is made up of carbon.
  • Carbon is the basis of proteins, fats, and nucleic acids in the human body. Thus, it plays an important role in the physiology of the human body.
  • Carbon dioxide that we exhale during respiration contains carbon. Varying amounts of carbon dioxide in the body can give rise to certain health conditions. Hence, it is important to maintain normal levels of carbon dioxide in the body.
  • All the metabolic activities that take place in the body have carbon as a basic component. Hormones and enzymes have carbon. They catalyze various cell reactions and other life processes in the human body.
  • Activated charcoal is used in medicine to absorb various toxins or gases produced in the human body.

Graphite is one of the allotropes of carbon, and serves a lot of purposes. It is one of the softest substances found in nature. Here are its primary uses -
  • Used as a lubricant.
  • Used as lead in pencils.
  • In the form of coke, it is used in the production process of steel.
  • Used in batteries.
  • Graphite, being a good conductor of electricity, is used in electrodes.
  • These days graphite is used extensively in brake linings, instead of asbestos.
  • A synthetic form of graphite (nuclear graphite) was previously used in nuclear reactors. They have since been replaced by deuterium oxide (heavy water).
  • Graphite blocks are used in blast furnaces as they are good conductors of heat.

Along with the many industrial uses, there are a number of commercial uses of this element. The most obvious of these uses, is when you consider the value and the importance of diamonds, which is another allotrope of the element. There is a great history and tradition behind diamonds, and they have also been the cause of full-fledged wars between nations. Their preciousness and rarity among the class of valuable gemstones is unquestioned, and this can be seen in the cost of a rather small piece of the crystalline rock. Diamonds are the complete opposite of graphite, and are one of the hardest substances that you can find. This property of diamonds is put to use in the manufacturing of many devices that are used for cutting purposes.

Amorphous Carbon
Another allotrope of carbon, which cannot be classified as graphite or diamonds, is called amorphous carbon. It is also called free or reactive carbon, and unlike the other allotropes, does not have a crystalline structure. Often the impure types of carbon, like coal and soot are called amorphous carbon. It is usually formed by the incomplete combustion (burning in a lack of oxygen) of some form of carbon.
  • While coal cannot be termed as a true amorphous carbon compound, it is widely used the world over as a fuel, and is one of the most commonly found, and abundant forms of carbon available in nature.
  • Amorphous carbon finds its use in advanced chemistry experiments, and also in the production of carbon nanotubes and carbon nano brushes.

Other Uses of Carbon
Carbon Dating
This is a method that is commonly used to find the age of fossils and minerals that have been around for many centuries. A radioactive isotope of carbon, known as carbon-14, is used for the purpose of carrying out this activity. Things that were formerly living beings can be accurately dated back to their origins using this technique.

The number of compounds that are formed by carbon atoms are around ten million. An entire branch of chemistry called organic chemistry, is devoted to the study of the properties, and uses of carbon in its many forms. The benefits of carbon for the human body, and for many other industrial purposes are unmatched, and all these properties combined make carbon a very essential element for sustaining human life.