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Elements of Chemistry, by Antoine Lavoisier

Sect. XVII.—Observations upon Carbonic Acid, and its Combinations.

Of all the known acids, the carbonic is the most abundant in nature; it exists ready formed in chalk, marble, and all the calcareous stones, in which it is neutralized by a particular earth called lime. To disengage it from this combination, nothing more is requisite than to add some sulphuric acid, or any other which has a stronger affinity for lime; a brisk effervescence ensues, which is produced by the disengagement of the carbonic acid which assumes the state of gas immediately upon being set free. This gas, incapable of being condensed into the solid or liquid form by any degree of cold or of pressure hitherto known, unites to about its own bulk of water, and thereby forms a very weak acid. It may likewise be obtained in great abundance from saccharine matter in fermentation, but is then contaminated by a small portion of alkohol which it holds in solution.

As charcoal is the radical of this acid, we may form it artificially, by burning charcoal in oxygen gas, or by combining charcoal and metallic oxyds in proper proportions; the oxygen of the oxyd combines with the charcoal, forming carbonic acid gas, and the metal being left free, recovers its metallic or reguline form.

We are indebted for our first knowledge of this acid to Dr Black, before whose time its property of remaining always in the state of gas had made it to elude the researches of chemistry.

It would be a most valuable discovery to society, if we could decompose this gas by any cheap process, as by that means we might obtain, for economical purposes, the immense store of charcoal contained in calcareous earths, marbles, limestones, &c. This cannot be effected by single affinity, because, to decompose the carbonic acid, it requires a substance as combustible as charcoal itself, so that we should only make an exchange of one combustible body for another not more valuable; but it may possibly be accomplished by double affinity, since this process is so readily performed by Nature, during vegetation, from the most common materials.

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Last updated Friday, November 2, 2012 at 23:02