Carbon and It's Compounds

Dhristi JEE 2022-24

About Carbon and It's Compounds

The chemistry of Carbon and its compounds is an interesting study. If we compare diamond and charcoal, one is an attractive, shiny, hard rock, whereas the other is an ashy, black, and soft substance. However, both these are carbon elements! Their varied properties are only because of the different arrangements of the carbon atoms.

The entire field of organic chemistry is based on carbon and the bonds it forms. The study of chemical carbon and its compounds is undoubtedly essential for understanding the elements available around us. In general, carbon compounds are organic.

What is Carbon?

The computer/mobile screen on which we are reading this concept, the clothes that we are wearing, the cars we ride, and even the food we eat all have one thing in common. What is this one thing? All these are composed of some elements of carbon, even in a negligible count. All organic things are made up of carbon. This is why the study of science carbon and its compounds is essential for everyone.

The name 'carbon' originated from the Latin word 'carbo' which means charcoal. This may be a surprise to us, but it is the fourth most abundant element to that of the entire universe And the second most abundant element in our bodies (the first being oxygen). As a piece of fact, all organic substances present in the world contain carbon in at least some form or element, which is why it is the base for the entire organic chemistry branch.

Carbon Atom

Carbon's atomic number is 6, which denotes the number of electrons. Carbon is a non-metal and is represented by the symbol C. It has protons, neutrons, and electrons, all with a count of 6 each. A carbon atom is considered to be unique and special because it can bond with other carbon atoms to an almost unlimited degree. This is because its atom is too small in size and can fit in as a part of larger molecules conveniently. In its outer shell, each of its atoms has four electrons called valence electrons and can form chemical bonds with molecules and other atoms.

Properties of Carbon Compounds

The physical and chemical properties of carbon and its compounds are given below. Let us have a look at them briefly.

Physical Properties of Carbon Compounds

Carbon's physical properties vary according to its allotropes. The two significant allotropes are graphite and diamond. Almost both of these have opposing physical properties.

  • Diamond is transparent with no colour, and graphite is black and opaque

  • Graphite is soft and spongy in texture and diamond is the hardest substance known to man

  • Now graphite is a perfect conductor of electricity, and diamond cannot conduct electricity at all

  • Both allotropic elements are non-gaseous and solid

  • Also both graphite and diamond are insoluble in water

  • It sublimes which is it turns to gaseous form; it does not melt when heated

Chemical Properties of Carbon Compounds

The critical chemical properties of carbon compounds are given below.

1. Combustion

The carbon compound undergoes a combustion reaction to form CO2 and H2O with the evolution of light and heat.

CH4 +O2 > CO2 + 2O + light and heat

2. Oxidation


 CH3CH2OH         ⟶               CH3COOH

(ethanol)                                  (ethanoic acid)

The substance which is used for oxidation is known as an oxidising agent.

For example, acidified K2Cr2O7, alkaline KMnO4.

3. Addition Reaction

Unsaturated hydrocarbons (alkynes and alkenes) undergo an additional reaction in the presence of catalysts. An example of a similar reaction is given below.


 CH3CH2OH         ⟶               CH3COOH

(ethanol)                                  (ethanoic acid)

4. Substitution Reaction

Saturated hydrocarbons provide a substitution reaction. For example, methane in the presence of sunlight undergoes chlorination.

Uses of Carbon in Daily Life

Some of the most important uses of carbon are:

Carbon makes up 18% of the human body. The food we eat contains a vital energy source called carbohydrates, which are elements of carbon. Sugar, glucose and proteins found in our body are all made of it. 

Hydrocarbons, extracted naturally as fossil fuels like oil, coal, and natural gas, are used as fuel. Some of the hydrocarbons are used as a feedstock for the petrochemical industries to produce polymers, paints, fibres, solvents and plastics.

Amorphous carbon is used in the making of paints, inks and batteries.

Impure carbon in the form of charcoal and coke is used in metal smelting in the iron and steel industries.

Graphite is used in pencils, brushes in electric motors, furnace linings and steel production. 

Activated charcoal is used for purification and filtration, and can be found in respirators.

Carbon fibre is used as a strong, yet lightweight material, in tennis rackets, fishing rods, skis, and even rockets and aeroplanes.

Carbon in diamond form is used in jewellery. Diamonds are the hardest substance known to man, and so industrial diamonds are used to cut rocks and conduct drilling. Also, diamond films are used in razor blades, to protect surfaces.

Carbon nanotubes, fullerenes and atom-thin graphene sheets are used in the electronics industry and nanotechnology.

Carbon is used in carbon dating, a process used by scientists to measure the age of things. Scientists use the rare carbon form, Carbon-14, to measure the age of fossils, bones and other things. 

FAQs on Carbon and It's Compounds

1. Explain the chemical Oxidation Reaction of Carbon Compounds?

Carbon compounds are oxidized in a combustion reaction in the presence of oxygen. Though combustion is an oxidation reaction generally, not all the oxidation reactions are combustion. Also, oxidation is carried out by using oxidizing agents which are nothing but the Oxidants.

Oxidizing agents are also referred to as Oxidants are the substances that oxidize other substances while undergoing reduction among themselves.

Alcohols undergo oxidation in the presence of Oxidants such as alkaline potassium permanganate (KMnO4) to produce carbolic acids.

For example, ethanol undergoes oxidation to form Acetic acid when heated by an Oxidizing agent such as alkaline KMnO4.

CH3CH2OH + 2(O) ---> CH3COOH + H2O

2. What are the compounds of Carbon?

Carbon compounds are those whose molecules contain a carbon atom. They are the chemical substances where a carbon atom has bonded to an atom of another element. These compounds are generally organic in nature. However, many are under false impression can if a molecule contains carbon, it is organic in nature. This is not correct. There are various inorganic carbon compounds like CO2 (carbon dioxide).

Carbon compounds are broadly divided into two categories.

Saturated Carbon Compounds

The compounds that are satisfied by a single bond between them are saturated compounds. An example is Ethane (C2H6). Here, the octet or duplet of both the atoms is fully complete only by a single bond.

Unsaturated Carbon Compound

The satisfied compounds only either by double or triple bonds are unsaturated carbon compounds. Ethene C2H4 is an unsaturated carbon compound having a double bond.

3. What are the types of carbon compounds?

The different types of carbon compounds are:

Organic Compounds: The biggest class of carbon compounds, an organic compound contains carbon and hydrogen. The four major categories of this compound present in all living things are proteins, carbohydrates, lipids and nucleic acid.

Inorganic Carbon Compounds: Inorganic carbon compounds are rare compared to organic compounds. They are found in minerals and other natural sources. Some of these inorganic carbon compounds are:

  • Carbites: Binary compounds formed with the atoms of carbon and another element whose electronegativity is lower than carbon. Example: Titanium Carbide.

  • Carbonates: A carbonate is a salt of carbonic acid. Example: Calcium Carbonate.

  • Cyanides: Chemical compounds that contain the cyano group. It is a carbon atom triple-bonded to a nitrogen atom. Example: Sodium Cyanide.

Carbon Alloys

Pure metals are smelted using coke as the reducing agent and fuel. Many alloys have carbon in them. An example of this is carbon steel, an alloy of carbon and iron.

Carbon Allotropes

Allotropes are all different physical forms of the element. It’s just that the carbon atoms are bonded differently, giving them different physical and chemical properties. Examples of these are coal, diamond and graphite.

Organometallic Compounds

Compounds formed with the bond of carbon and metal are called organometallic compounds. They are ionic compounds. The electropositive nature of metals makes them very polar bonds.

4. What is Catenation?

Carbon’s ability to form long chains of bonds is called catenation. These chains are formed when carbon atoms form bonds or tetravalent bonds with other carbon atoms. This means that one carbon atom forms bonds with four other carbon atoms. This bonding can be repeated countless times without disturbing the stability of the bonds or the compounds formed.

So picture this: Chains can form branches that can form sub-branches that can form rings and then more rings. These are two groups within this: open-chain compounds, (or aliphatic compounds). These kinds of carbon-carbon chain bonds can be seen in organic compounds like alkanes, alkenes, and alkynes, and are found in animal or vegetable fats. 

The second group is closed-chain compounds (cyclic compounds). Benzene, vanillin, and phenol are examples of this group.

5. Why is carbon tetravalent?

Carbon can form bonds with other atoms by sharing its valence electrons. Carbon is tetravalent because one carbon atom can form four covalent bonds.  

For example, four valence electrons of carbon can bond with four hydrogen atoms to form methane.

This valency of four is why carbon can form compounds with elements like oxygen, hydrogen, chlorine, sulphur and many other elements. 

It also makes the compounds highly stable. The small size of carbon enables its nucleus to stick very firmly to the pairs of electrons, forming useful compounds such as diamond and graphite. 

It is the tetravalency that makes carbon a versatile element.