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carbide, any one of a group of compounds that contain carbon and one other element that is either a metal, boron, or silicon. Generally, a carbide is prepared by heating a metal, metal oxide, or metal hydride with carbon or a carbon compound. Calcium carbide, CaC2, can be made by heating calcium oxide and coke in an electric furnace; it reacts with water to yield acetylene and is an important source of the gas. Barium carbide reacts similarly. Aluminum carbide reacts with water to yield methane. Some carbides are unaffected by water, e.g., chromium carbide and silicon carbide. Silicon carbide, almost as hard as diamond, is used as an abrasive. Tungsten carbide, also very hard, is used for cutting edges of machine tools. Iron carbides are present in steel, cast iron, and some other iron alloys.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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