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Allotropes of phosphorus

Elemental phosphorus can exist in several allotropes, most commonly white, red and black.

White phosphorus (P4) exists as individual molecules made up of four atoms in a tetrahedral arrangement, resulting in very high ring strain and instability. It contains 6 single bonds.

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White phosphorus

White phosphorus is a yellow, waxy transparent solid. For this reason it is also called yellow phosphorus. It glows greenish in the dark (when exposed to oxygen), is highly flammable and pyrophoric (self-igniting) upon contact with air as well as toxic (causing severe liver damage on ingestion). The odour of combustion of this form has a characteristic garlic smell, and samples are commonly coated with white "(di)phosphorus pentoxide", which consists of P4O10 tetrahedra with oxygen inserted between the phosphorus atoms and at their vertices. White phosphorus is insoluble in water but soluble in carbon disulfide.

The white allotrope can be produced using several different methods. In one process, calcium phosphate, which is derived from phosphate rock, is heated in an electric or fuel-fired furnace in the presence of carbon and silica.[1] Elemental phosphorus is then liberated as a vapour and can be collected under phosphoric acid. This process is similar to the first synthesis of phosphorus from calcium phosphate in urine.

Red phosphorus

Red phosphorus may be formed by heating white phosphorus to 250°C (482°F) or by exposing white phosphorus to sunlight. Phosphorus after this treatment exists as an amorphous network of atoms which reduces strain and gives greater stability; further heating results in the red phosphorus becoming crystalline. Red phosphorus does not catch fire in air at temperatures below 240°C, whereas white phosphorus ignites at about 30°C.

In 1865 Hittorf discovered that when phosphorus was recrystallized from molten lead, a red/purple form is obtained. This purple form is sometimes known as "Hittorf's phosphorus." In addition, a fibrous form exists with similar phosphorus cages. Below is shown a chain of phosphorus atoms which exhibits both the purple and fibrous forms.

One of the forms of red/black phosphorus is a cubic solid.[2]

Black phosphorus

Black phosphorus has an orthorhombic structure (Cmca) and is the least reactive allotrope, it consists of many six-membered rings which are interlinked. Each atom is bonded to three other atoms.[3][4] A recent synthesis of black phosphorus using metal salts as catalysts has been reported.[5]


The diphosphorus allotrope (P2) can be obtained normally only under extreme conditions (for example, from P4 at 1100 kelvin). Nevertheless, some advancements were obtained in generating the diatomic molecule in homogenous solution, under normal condtitions with the use by some transitional metal complexes (based on for example tungsten and niobium).[6]


  1. ^ Threlfall, R.E., (1951). 100 years of Phosphorus Making: 1851 - 1951. Oldbury: Albright and Wilson Ltd
  2. ^ R. Ahuja, Physica Status Solidi, Sectio B: Basic Research, 2003, 235, 282-287
  3. ^ A. Brown, S. Runquist, Acta Crystallogr., 19 (1965) 684
  4. ^ Cartz, L.;Srinivasa, S.R.;Riedner, R.J.;Jorgensen, J.D.;Worlton, T.G., Journal of Chemical Physics, 1979, 71, 1718-1721
  5. ^ Stefan Lange, Peer Schmidt, and Tom Nilges, Inorganic Chemistry, 2007, 46, 4028
  6. ^ [1]

See also

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Allotropes_of_phosphorus". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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