What are the Structure and Properties of Graphite?

Graphite Blue Hexagon

Carbon-graphite offers a unique combination of physical, chemical and mechanical characteristics found in no other material. One particular characteristic is its structure.

Graphite has a layered structure. In each layer, each carbon atom is bound to three others. This results in a two-dimensional network of hexagons. Within each layer, there are strong bonds, but between the different layers, the bonds are fragile. Thus, the layers can easily be shifted against each other and separated. This structure is why graphite is very soft and even used as a lubricant. But graphite has other unique characteristics as well:

Electrical Conductivity of Graphite

The fact that graphite is electrically conductive results from its atomic structure. Each carbon atom in a graphite crystal has four valence electrons, also called outer electrons, which can form bonds with neighboring atoms. However, only three of the four valence electrons enter into a bond, while the fourth electron remains freely mobile and thus allows electricity to be conducted.

Thermal Conductivity of Graphite

Graphite has excellent thermal conductivity combined with high-temperature resistance. Graphite does not have a melting point; it changes from the solid state directly into the gaseous state. This process is called sublimation. In an inert gas atmosphere, graphite becomes plastically deformable starting at 2500 °C. At temperatures above 3750 °C, graphite sublimates even without oxygen.

Chemical Resistance of Graphite

Graphite is one of the most chemically resistant materials. It is resistant to almost all media of organic chemistry. These typically include the intermediate and/or end products in the petrochemicals, coal refining, plastics industry, the production of paints, coatings, refrigerants, and antifreeze, but also in the cosmetics and food industries. In addition, graphite is resistant to most inorganic media, such as non-oxidizing acids, alkalis, aqueous salt solutions, and most technical gasses.

Important Chemical Reactions

Reaction with Air
Carbon in the form of Graphite, burns in the air to form Carbon Monoxide and Carbon Dioxide depending upon the availability of air or oxygen.

  • C(s)+O2→CO2(g)
  • 2C(s)+O2(g)→2CO(g)

Reaction with Water
Carbon in the form of Graphite doesn’t react with water in normal conditions. Under certain circumstances, the given reaction becomes possible and forms water gas which is a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas.

  • C+H2O→CO+H2

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