What is Carbon - Quiz
Physical Properties of Carbon
We all know about the carbon pollution pouring into the atmosphere as fossil fuels are burned but why is it black? What exactly does carbon in its pure form look like? To get to the bottom of that puzzle we need to look at a few of the ways in which carbon is used in nature.
If you have some basic chemical knowledge this examination will be easy enough for you to follow. However, I will do my best to explain it so that anyone who has never done chemistry can also understand the explanations.
Filter the Air You Breathe
If you are in a carbon filled environment then you need a face mask to filter the deadly gas from the air you breathe in. This one has several filters to do the job and is worth the investment.
Bonding of Carbon Atoms
To begin with carbon, symbol C, is the second most abundant element in the human body after oxygen. It occurs in all animal and plant tissues, combined with hydrogen, symbol H, and oxygen, symbol O, and in their geological derivatives as petroleum and coal, where it is combined mostly with hydrogen in the form of hydro carbons. So what we see burning off in the stack is, in fact, a combination of these two elements being released.
You might also know that diamond, for example, is also C in a solid form and it is reasonably clear indicating that the element is colourless. But it also occurs as graphite and that is gray, so what is the difference between them? That has to do with how C atoms are bonded together.
In the case of diamond each atom has four other C atoms linked to it in a tetrahedron fashion, that is there is a central carbon atom and an outer square shape of four C atoms. Each C atom in turn is bonded to 4 more in the same way and the result is an extremely hard interlocked grid with the bonds directed in space and the atoms firmly locked together in a rigid pattern.
Each C atom has an electron configuration of 2:4. That means there are 2 electrons in the nuleus (core) and 4 electrons in the outer rim or orbital. The electrons carry a charge that balances the atom. When they are combined in diamond all the electrons of the bonded C atoms fill all the orbitals so there is no room for anything else to penetrate and pass through. It is, therefore, the hardest substance known and is a non conductor of electricity. The strength of diamond is seen when used in drills that bore through mountains.
Graphite, on the other hand, is like dust. It is composed of sheet like paticles that slide past each other making the product able to be used almost as an oil type substance to release jamming. The material is soft, grey, with a high melting point due to the type of C bonding and it is a good conductor of electricity.
Similar substances are found in coke, which results from heating coal in the absence of air, charcoal, made in much the same way, and carbon black also known as soot.
Carbon Emissions Control
China has a massive carbon pollution problem and the health of city workers is of great concern. This is a look at some of the implications that fit for any city and is educational and informative.
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The Deadly Gas
Carbon Monoxide is the most deadly form of carbon pollution and it is unable to be detected until death occurs. There are problem areas and a couple who died on the banks of a river were killed by this insidious gas produced on an industrial site. It pays to know more about it.
Carbon is a Killer
When with oxygen carbon forms oxides, the most important of which are cabon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2). The most convenient way of preparing these gasses is by conbustion of carbon or hydrocarbons with CO as a dominant factor when oxygen is limited. This happens in a furnace, for example, when coal or bio masses are burnt.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that is highly toxic. It interferes with the normal oxygen carrying function of haemoglobin in red blood cells. The result is carboxyhemoglobin and when this occurs the tissues are starved of oxygen with death possible as a result. It is present in the exhaust gas of motor vehicles often used for suicides and even murder.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) on the other hand is not poisonous and is necessary for physiological functions, such as the maintenance of the correct pH of blood. While it is produced by respiration it is used up in photosynthesis so the concentration in the atmosphere is fairly constant and remains around 0.04%.
Commercial production of CO2 is principally done in the distilling industry which converts sugar to alcohol during fermentation and through thermal decomposition of limestone to form carbon dioxide and calcium oxide (CaO).
In the laboratory CO2 is produced by thermal decomposition of bicarbonates such as sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3). The resultant gas is thick with density about 1.5% greater than air and it tends to settle in pockets where it displaces air, so that there is no reaction with it. That makes it the perfect fire fighting blanket, for want of a better term, as it excludes oxygen from the fire while it is itself non combustible. It is the carbon dioxide blanket over the earth, due to the burning of fiossil fuels, which is causing the green house effect and locking in the heat.
CO2 is also soluble in water at room temperature and twice as soluble in alcohol. In the case of the latter ot speeds up the passage of alcohol from the stomach to the intestines and thus to the blood.
While this is only a brief outline of carbon properties and it's effect on life readers are encouraged to read more and become educated into the main source of global warming that occurs as a result of too much carbon in the atmosphere and not enough trees to absorb it.
There are Better Ways
Electricity without carbon is the best way forward. The technology and systems are already available but it is mainly government policy in regions that sustain the worst pollution that is stopping progress in this area.
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