Necessary for all life.
Named from the Latin word meaning “charcoal,” carbon is an extremely important element. Carbon has a phenomenal and unique ability to create an astonishing number of different compounds—over 10 million different compounds of carbon are known. Carbon is the only element which has an entire branch of chemistry devoted solely to it and its reactions—organic chemistry—so named because most of the compounds that all life requires contain carbon. Natural carbon occurs in several different forms, including graphite, diamond and the rare buckminsterfullerene (C60). Graphite carbon is used in steel making, printing, sugar refining, respirators, water purification and treatment and in pencil lead and batteries. Diamond carbon is used in jewelry and in many cutting applications. Diamonds also have the distinction of having the highest melting point of any substance (35700C). Buckminsterfullerene is currently too rare to have any industrial use but it holds great potential for the future. The many carbon compounds make up one of the largest and most useful group of substances that exist.
Carbon is a critical element to all life. It is one of the six bulk elements and is the second most common element in the human body. It is a constituent of DNA, the primary building block of all organic matter. Life is intimately involved in the carbon cycle. Carbon dioxide is converted through various life processes into many different carbon compounds, which are then converted to fossil fuels by decay processes, which, when burned, reforms carbon dioxide. Some carbon compounds such as CO or CN are very dangerous.
Role in Life Processes
Percentage Amount in the Human Body: 22.85%
Graphite is mined in countries including China, Mozambique, Brazil, Madagascar and India. Industrial diamond and gem diamonds are mined in countries including Russia, Congo (Kinshasa), Australia, and Botswana. Carbon is a vital component of fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum. It is present in all carbonate minerals that form limestone and dolomite, as well as the pure carbon minerals, graphite and diamond.