Natural Occurrence and Commercial Preparation
Because of its chemical activity phosphorus does not occur uncombined in nature but is widely distributed in many minerals. A major source is apatite, an impure calcium phosphate mineral found in phosphate rocks. In the United States major deposits are found in Florida, Tennessee, Montana, and Idaho. White phosphorus is prepared commercially from phosphate rock in an electric furnace or blast furnace. The principal use of phosphorus is in compounds; for this reason, most of the phosphorus produced in furnaces is burned to make phosphorus pentoxide, a white powdery substance. While the pentoxide is used as a drying agent and chemical reagent, it is chiefly converted to phosphoric acid, H3PO4, also called orthophosphoric acid, by reaction with water. Another important source of phosphoric acid is from phosphate rocks by treatment with sulfuric acid; this is the so-called wet-acid process.
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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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