|Molar mass||55.255 g/mol|
|Appearance||dark gray or black powder, odorless|
|Density||2.52 g/cm3, solid.|
|Melting point||2,763 °C (5,005 °F; 3,036 K)|
|Boiling point||3,500 °C (6,330 °F; 3,770 K)|
|Acidity (pKa)||6–7 (20 °C)|
Except where noted otherwise, data is given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C (77 °F), 100 kPa)
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Boron carbide (chemical formula approximately B4C) is an extremely hard boron–carbon ceramic material used in tank armor, bulletproof vests, engine sabotage powders, as well as numerous industrial applications. With a Mohs hardness of about 9.497, it is one of the hardest materials known, behind cubic boron nitride and diamond.
Boron carbide was discovered in 19th century as a by-product of reactions involving metal borides, however, its chemical formula was unknown. It was not until the 1930s that the chemical composition was estimated as B4C. There remained, however, controversy as to whether or not the material had this exact 4:1 stoichiometry, as in practice the material is always slightly carbon-deficient with regard to this formula, and X-ray crystallography shows that its structure is highly complex, with a mixture of C-B-C chains and B12 icosahedra. These features argued against a very simple exact B4C empirical formula. Because of the B12 structural unit, the chemical formula of "ideal" boron carbide is often written not as B4C, but as B12C3, and the carbon deficiency of boron carbide described in terms of a combination of the B12C3 and B12CBC units.
The ability of boron carbide to absorb neutrons without forming long lived radionuclides makes it attractive as an absorbent for neutron radiation arising in nuclear power plants. Nuclear applications of boron carbide include shielding, control rod and shut down pellets. Within control rods, boron carbide is often powdered, to increase its surface area.
Boron carbide has a complex crystal structure typical of icosahedron-based borides. There, B12 icosahedra form a rhombohedral lattice unit (space group: R3m (No. 166), lattice constants: a = 0.56 nm and c = 1.212 nm) surrounding a C-B-C chain that resides at the center of the unit cell, and both carbon atoms bridge the neighboring three icosahedra. This structure is layered: the B12 icosahedra and bridging carbons form a network plane that spreads parallel to the c-plane and stacks along the c-axis. The lattice has two basic structure units – the B12 icosahedron and the B6 octahedron. Because of the small size of the B6 octahedra, they cannot interconnect. Instead, they bond to the B12 icosahedra in the neighboring layer, and this decreases bonding strength in the c-plane.
Because of the B12 structural unit, the chemical formula of "ideal" boron carbide is often written not as B4C, but as B12C3, and the carbon deficiency of boron carbide described in terms of a combination of the B12C3 and B12C2 units. Some studies indicate the possibility of incorporation of one or more carbon atoms into the boron icosahedra, giving rise to formulas such as (B11C)CBC = B4C at the carbon-heavy end of the stoichiometry, but formulas such as B12(CBB) = B14C at the boron-rich end. A common intermediate, which approximates a commonly found ratio of elements, is B12(CBC) = B6.5C.
Boron carbide is known as a robust material having high hardness, high cross section for absorption of neutrons (i.e. good shielding properties against neutrons), stability to ionizing radiation and most chemicals. Its Vickers hardness (38 GPa), Elastic Modulus (460 GPa) and fracture toughness (3.5 MPa·m1/2) approach the corresponding values for diamond (115 GPa and 5.3 MPa·m1/2).
Boron carbide was first synthesized by Henri Moissan in 1899, by reduction of boron trioxide either with carbon or magnesium in presence of carbon in an electric arc furnace. In the case of carbon, the reaction occurs at temperatures above the melting point of B4C and is accompanied by liberation of large amount of carbon monoxide:
- 2 B2O3 + 7 C → B4C + 6 CO
- Personal and vehicle anti-ballistic armor plating.
- Grit blasting nozzles.
- High-pressure water jet cutter nozzles.
- Scratch and wear resistant coatings.
- Cutting tools and dies.
- Neutron absorber in nuclear reactors.
- Metal matrix composites.
- High energy fuel for solid fuel Ramjets.
- In brake linings of vehicles
- As an espionage tool to sabotage the engine of a car
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