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Acetylene: Production and Use

Production of Acetylene (Ethyne)

Calcium carbide was described in detail for the first time by Friedrich Wöhler (1836) and Pierre Eugène Berthelot (1862). The carbide synthesis on a laboratory scale was carried out in 1892 by Thomas L. Wilson in the USA and by Henry Moissan in Paris. Industrial carbide production started in 1895 by Aluminiumindustrie AG Neuhausen (Switzerland) and in 1898 in Norway and Germany (Rheinfelden).

Because of the large energy content of acetylene, its production requires much energy. Therefore, acetylene can be prepared from its elements only under very drastic reaction conditions, namely in an electrical arc at several thousands degree Celsius:

Acetylene synthesis from its elements.

The oldest method of preparing acetylene is the treatment of calcium carbide with water at room temperature (2), by which acetylene and calcium hydroxide are formed. Calcium carbide is produced by heating coke with calcium oxide (limestone) in an electrical furnace up to 2000 °C (1), which results in the desired product and carbon monoxide (CO).

Production of calcium carbide (1).
Synthesis of acetylene by treating calcium carbide with water (2).

The easily controllable reaction (2) made it possible to use acetylene, released from calcium carbide, as fuel for portable lamps. These carbide lamps were formerly used as miner´s lamps and warning signals at the railroad, for example.


Exercise: Production of acetylene

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