Beryllium Carbide

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beryllium carbide, or Be2C, is an important material used in nuclear reactors. It has the same hardness as diamond and is a strong core component in nuclear reactors. It is also a valuable material for surgical tools, as it can withstand long-term use.

Obtaining information about the chemical composition and crystalline properties of beryllium carbide is easy with X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy. Several methods for preparing Be2C are reported in the literature, including the thermal diffusion method.

BeC is an interstitial carbide, formed at high temperatures by the intermixing of atoms from two different transition metals. The small carbon atoms (about 15 atomic radii) occupy the interstices of the metal atoms, which form a host lattice for them.

These carbides are often extremely brittle and have very high melting points (3,000-4,000 degC [5,400-7,200 degF]). They retain many of the properties of their parent metals, such as conductivity of heat and electricity and metallic lustre.

The chemical preparation of beryllium carbide is a relatively simple process that involves heating the carbon with a carbon electrode and cooling it to a lower temperature. The reaction can take place over a period of several days in a furnace containing a mixture of finely ground coke and silica sand.

The method of preparation was developed by the American inventor Edward G. Acheson in 1891. Acheson heated a mixture of alumina and carbon in an iron bowl with an ordinary carbon arc-light as an electrode. Acheson soon discovered that the resulting crystals approximated the hardness of diamond. Acheson patented his method in the United States.