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What Is Carbon Powder?

By Alex Newth
Updated May 17, 2024
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Carbon powder is a versatile powder that can be made from an allotrope of carbon, with each allotrope having a different use or function. Carbon powder, regardless of its allotrope, is typically used by metallurgists to make steel or to harden steel and iron. As graphite, powdered carbon is useful as a conductor for batteries. Powdered diamonds, one of the purest natural forms of carbon, is often used for creating tools. Powdered carbon also is often used by scientists for organic chemistry, because carbon is necessary in this field, and it is able to make the most chemical bonds of any element.

When it comes to carbon powder, there are many uses, from the industrial to the scientific. One of the reasons carbon is so versatile is that it has several useful allotropes. An allotrope represents different chemical structures that involve the same element. This means carbon can exist as graphite, diamond or as fullerenes.

Carbon powder, regardless of where it came from, is used mostly for energy and metal creation. The largest use of powdered carbon comes from metallurgy, which alloys the carbon with iron to create steel. If iron or steel is heated around powdered carbon, the carbon will harden the metal in a process called hardening. The powdered carbon from plant-based materials can be converted into charcoal. This same carbon can go through an activation process, which makes it a powerful absorbent, by removing the oxygen and other elements from natural carbon.

Graphite carbon powder is found in some consumer products, mostly graphite art tools, but is mostly used for industrial purposes. The graphite powder is chemically inert and can withstand high heat and corrosion, meaning it can be used in hazardous areas. It is a good conductor, so graphite is commonly used for batteries.

A diamond is one of the purest natural forms of carbon, and while it is known as a precious gem, diamond carbon powder is more often used for industrial purposes. Powdered diamond is added to steel to create powerful tools that are durable and have high penetrating power. Diamonds also are powerful abrasives, because of their natural toughness.

Chemists often make use of carbon powder, because an organic compound must have carbon, making it is essential in the field of organic chemistry. These chemists use carbon mostly to make solvents and other industrial compounds. Carbon also helps polymerize elements, making it useful for plastic synthesis.

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Discussion Comments
By browncoat — On Nov 05, 2011

I always found it weird that the graphite I have in my pencil and the diamond in my mom's wedding ring are actually the same substance, just formed in different ways.

It's amazing how important the way they make the graphite pencils can be. I never realized what a difference it makes until I went to art school and started buying more expensive graphite and charcoal pencils (both made of carbon I might add).

I don't know if it's because they add something to the carbon powder when they make it or what, but they must do something.

By indigomoth — On Nov 04, 2011

@irontoenail - Well, the thing is, the hardness of a material and the toughness of a material are two different things.

So with diamonds, some of them are considered the hardest material on earth (it depends, a flawed diamond isn't as hard as a flawless diamond).

Which means you generally can't cut them into smaller pieces unless you are using another diamond. This is why they make good jewelry, because you aren't likely to scratch them, even if you wear them all the time.

But, diamonds aren't very "tough" compared to some substances. So, if you hit them quite hard, they will shatter.

I imagine that's how they manage to make diamond dust. Using force to shatter the diamonds into smaller bits, rather than trying to grind them up.

By irontoenail — On Nov 03, 2011

It's really interesting thinking about how something that people consider to be a precious gem can be powdered up and used in power tools.

I guess there is such a price difference even between different sizes and qualities of jewelry diamonds that the lower quality, tiny ones could be quite cheap enough to use in bulk for things like that.

One thing I always wondered about though. If a diamond is the hardest substance on earth, how do they manage to make them into powder? I mean, if it is so hard it can't be cut by anything else, how do you grind it up like that?

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