Calcium carbide is a solid chemical compound of calcium and carbon, with the formula CaC2, a carbide, that reacts with water to produce acetylene.



Calcium carbide reacts vigorously with water to produce calcium hydroxide and acetylene gas.

CaC2 + 2 H2O → C2H2 + Ca(OH)2

If there are traces of other substances, it will also produce phosphine, ammonia or hydrogen sulfide. The presence of phosphine can lead to spontaneous ignition of the acetylene. Because it reacts with water, acetylene can be used as a drying agent, but it is an inconvinient one, mostly due to its impurities.

Pure calcium carbide reacts slowly with anhydrous acids.

Calcium carbide will react with nitrogen at high temperature, to form calcium cyanamide, in the Frank–Caro process:

CaC2 + N2 → CaCN2 + C


Pure calcium carbide is white, but traces of impurities usually gives the material grey, blue or brown aspect.


Technical grade calcium carbide can be found at certain construction stores, but this type contains traces of other ionic calcium compounds, such as calcium phosphide, calcium nitride, calcium sulfide, that when react with water release an unpleasant smell. Acetylene derived from calcium carbide provides the driving force behind many types of toy cannons, so calcium carbide can be obtained as a kind of fuel in stores or on websites that sell these. Purer samples can be found at lab suppliers.


Calcium carbide is produced industrially in an electric arc furnace, from a mixture of calcium oxide and coke (or pure carbon) at approximately 2000 °C.

CaO + 3 C → CaC2 + CO

Another method involves the reaction between finely divided calcium metal and powdered carbon (activated charcoal e.g.), at 810°C in an inert atmosphere. This reaction is highly exothermic, the calcium will not require further heating once melted.[1]


  • Make acetylene
  • Metal acetylides, which can be produced by bubbling acetylene through a salt solution of a metal.
  • Calcium cyanamide synthesis



Calcium carbide must be handled with gloves, as while it is not as caustic as alkali metals e.g., it can still irritate the skin by reacting to the sweat and moisture. Reaction with water gives off toxic fumes, so it should be performed outside or in a fume hood; it also poses a fire hazard because of potential phosphine and diphosphane generated due to phosphorus impurities in commercial samples. In powdered form can severely irritate the eyes and mucous membrane.


Calcium carbide must be stored in dry containers and away from any moisture. As the technical grade gives off unpleasant smells, it's best to keep it in a closed container or in a well ventilated area.


Calcium carbide can be neutralized by adding various types of alcohol, such as ethanol, isopropanol, resulting in acetylene, vinyl ethers, calcium alkoxides and higher alcohols from decomposition of calcium alkoxides.[2]



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