The periodic table/Carbon

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Carbon has been known since prehistoric times. The name is derived from the Latin, 'carbo' meaning charcoal.

Quick Facts[edit]

Name: Carbon

Symbol: C

Mass: 12.0107

Atomic Number: 6

Electron Configuration: [He] 2s2 2p2

Classification: non-metal

CAS Number: 7440-44-0:1333-86-4

Appearance: Diamond is a colourless transparent crystalline solid. Graphite is a soft black shiny solid. Fullerenes and graphene are black powders.

Discovery in: prehistoric times

Key Isotopes: 12C, 13C, 14C

Allotropes: diamond, graphite, graphene, amorphous, fullerene

Density: 3.513 g/L (diamond), 2.267 g/L (graphite)

Crystal Structure: cubic (diamond), hexagonal (graphite)

Melting Point: 3825 °C

Boiling Point: sublimes


Carbon can form strongly bonded chains terminated by hydrogen atoms. These are called hydrocarbons, and are extracted naturally as fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas). They are mostly used when combusted with oxygen, as a source of energy for transport, electrical energy generation and industry. A small fraction are used as feedstock for the petrochemical industries to produce polymers, fibres, paints solvents, plastics etc. Impure carbon in the form of charcoal (from wood) and coke (from coal) is used in metal smelting, especially for the iron and steel industry. Industrial diamonds are used for cutting rocks and drilling. More recently, the discovery of carbon nanotubes, other fullerenes and graphene are revolutionising developments in the electronics industry and in nanotechnology generally.

150 years ago the natural concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere was 280 ppm. In 2013, as a result of burning fossil fuels, it was 390 ppm. Atmospheric carbon dioxide allows visible light in but prevents some infra-red escaping (this is the natural greenhouse effect), keeping the Earth warm enough to sustain life. However, an enhanced greenhouse effect due to human-induced rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide is being felt by living things as our climate changes.

The molecules of life are carbon-based. Living things get almost all their carbon from carbon dioxide, either from the atmosphere or dissolved in water, through photosynthesis in green plants and photosynthetic plankton. The sun’s energy splits water into oxygen (released to the atmosphere, into fresh water and the seas) and hydrogen (which joins with carbon dioxide to produce carbohydrates).

With the addition of other elements, especially nitrogen and phosphorus, some of the carbohydrates are used to form the other molecules of life, including bases and sugars for RNA and DNA, and amino acids for proteins. Life forms which do not photosynthesise have to rely on consuming other living things for their source of carbon-based molecules.

Carbon is found in the sun and other stars formed from the debris of a previous supernova, and it is built up by nuclear fusion in bigger stars. It is present in the atmospheres of many planets usually as carbon dioxide. Graphite is found naturally in many locations. Diamond is found in the form of microscopic crystals in some meteorites. Natural diamonds are found in the mineral kimberlite, sources of which are in South Africa, Arkansas and elsewhere. Diamonds are now also being recovered from the ocean floor off the Cape of Good Hope. In combination, carbon is found in all living things and as fossilised remains in the form of hydrocarbon gases, crude oil, oil shales and coal etc., and also as carbonates (eg. chalk limestone and dolomite).

Atomic Data[edit]

Atomic radius: 1.700 Å

Covalent radius: 0.75 Å

Electronegativity: 2.550

Electron affinity: 121.733 kJ mol-1

Ionisation energies

First: 1086.453 kJ mol-1

Second: 2352.629 kJ mol-1

Third: 4620.467 kJ mol-1

Fourth: 6222.711 kJ mol-1

Fifth: 37830.615 kJ mol-1

Sixth: 47277.133 kJ mol-1

Supply Risk[edit]


Scarcity factor: 4.5 (medium risk)

Crustal abundance: 200 ppm

Reserve base distribution: 27.5%

Production concentration: 46.1%

Top 3 countries for mining:

  1. USA
  2. Russia
  3. China

Top 3 countries for production:

  1. China
  2. USA
  3. India


Scarcity factor: 4.0 (medium risk)

Crustal abundance: 200 ppm

Reserve base distribution: 33.5%

Production concentration: 28.6%

Top 3 countries for mining:

  1. DRC
  2. Australia
  3. Botswana

Top 3 countries for production:

  1. Russia
  2. DRC
  3. Botswana


Scarcity factor: 7.0 (high risk)

Crustal abundance: 200 ppm

Reserve base distribution: 63.6%

Production concentration: 81.8%

Top 3 countries for mining:

  1. China
  2. Czech Republic
  3. India

Top 3 countries for production:

  1. China
  2. Bosnia-Herzegovina
  3. Brazil

Oxidation States and Isotopes[edit]

Common oxidation states: 4, 3, 2, 1, 0, -1, - 2, -3, -4


Isotope Atomic mass Abundance (%) Half life Mode of decay
12C 12 98.93
13C 13.003 1.07
14C 14.003 5717 years β-

Pressure and Temperature Data[edit]

Molar heat capacity: 6.155 J mol-1 K-1 (diamond), 8.157 J mol-1 K-1 (graphite),

See Also[edit]