Carbon is one of the most essential elements in the manufacturing industry today. It is the main alloy of steel and the special properties of carbon like graphite electrodes make it ideal for many production processes. In addition, carbon is an essential component of life on earth and without it, we would not be here. Let’s take a closer look at the importance of this material for industry in the 21st Century.
Carbon Becomes Graphite
When carbon is crystallized it becomes graphite or other materials like diamonds. It can be created naturally within the earth or synthetically. Natural crystallized carbon is used in the production of pencils. For centuries people used plumbago (natural graphite) for drawing and in the 1500s, pencils came into being to greatly simplify writing and record keeping.
Pencils do not contain lead, like many people still believe. Most of today’s pencil leads are made from synthetic graphite mixed with ingredients like clay. This way, they can produce a wide range of pencil lead hardness for many different applications. Synthetically produced graphite is used for many applications today, including graphite electrodes.
An Asbestos Substitute
For many years, vehicle brake linings were made from asbestos. Asbestos is a good material for linings and is highly resistant to heat. However, when asbestos brake linings wear, they form finely powdered asbestos and this can create a number of respiratory problems if these tiny fibers are inhaled into the lungs. It can be especially toxic to mechanics and people working in or near automotive shops. Today, specially produced graphite is replacing many kinds of asbestos linings, because it is a much safer alternative.
Crystallized carbon is a very good lubricant. Its chemical structure contains many carbon atoms loosely bonded to each other. This creates a slick material which helps to eliminate friction. In many applications, petroleum products are not suitable for lubrication and graphite is the better choice. Plus, carbon does not easily wear off like oil, so it doesn’t need to be applied so often.
Carbon is very important in the making of steel. Carbon is what gives steel its strength and special properties. Arc furnaces are run by electric power transmitted to graphite electrodes. Carbon is used because of its excellent conductor properties and it can withstand the heat required for producing steel.
To make arc furnace electrodes, coal tar pitch is combined with petroleum coke. Then in an extrusion process, the electrode is shaped and then baked. After this, it is subjected to very high heat. This literally rearranges the atoms of carbon. Carbon electrodes are used in the process of smelting aluminum, injection molding and other applications.
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