The Uses of Calcium Carbonate

Calcium carbonate crystals are referred to as calcite.  The calcite crystal generally is considered a rhombohedron because of its cleavage properties. Cleavage is what causes crystals to angle where the bonding forces are weak and are apt to break into planes.  Calcite is unique in that its cleavage takes three distinct directions.  There are more than 300 forms of calcite crystals.

Industrial Applications

The main use of calcium carbonate is in the construction industry, either as a building material, or limestone aggregate for road building, as an ingredient of cement, or as the starting material for the preparation of builders’ lime by burning in a kiln. However, because of weathering mainly caused by acid rain, calcium carbonate (in limestone form) is no longer used for building purposes on its own, but only as a raw primary substance for building materials. Calcium carbonate is also used in the purification of iron from iron ore in a blast furnace. The carbonate is calcined in situ to give calcium oxide, which forms a slag with various impurities present, and separates from the purified iron. In the oil industry, calcium carbonate is added to drilling fluids as a formation-bridging and filtercake-sealing agent; it is also a weighting material which increases the density of drilling fluids to control the downhole pressure. Calcium carbonate is added to swimming pools, as a pH corrector for maintaining alkalinity and offsetting the acidic properties of the disinfectant agent. It is also used as a raw material in the refining of sugar from sugar beet; it is calcined in a kiln with anthracite to produce calcium oxide and carbon dioxide. This burnt lime is then slaked in fresh water to produce a calcium hydroxide suspension for the precipitation of impurities in raw juice during carbonatation. Calcium carbonate in the form of chalk has traditionally been a major component of blackboard chalk. However, modern manufactured chalk is mostly gypsum, hydrated calcium sulfate CaSO4·2H2O. Calcium carbonate is a main source for growing Seacrete. Precipitated calcium carbonate (PCC), pre-dispersed in slurry form, is a common filler material for latex gloves with the aim of achieving maximum saving in material and production costs. Fine ground calcium carbonate (GCC) is an essential ingredient in the microporous film used in diapers and some building films, as the pores are nucleated around the calcium carbonate particles during the manufacture of the film by biaxial stretching. GCC and PCC are used as a filler in paper because they are cheaper than wood fiber. In terms of market volume, GCC are the most important types of fillers currently used.

Health and Dietary Applications

Calcium carbonate is widely used medicinally as an inexpensive dietary calcium supplement for gastric antacid (such as Tums). It may be used as a phosphate binder for the treatment of hyperphosphatemia (primarily in patients with chronic renal failure). It is also used in the pharmaceutical industry as an inert filler for tablets and other pharmaceuticals. Calcium carbonate is used in the production of calcium oxide as well as toothpaste and has seen a resurgence as a food preservative and color retainer, when used in or with products such as organic apples. Excess calcium from supplements, fortified food and high-calcium diets, can cause milk-alkali syndrome, which has serious toxicity and can be fatal. In 1915, Bertram Sippy introduced the “Sippy regimen” of hourly ingestion of milk and cream, and the gradual addition of eggs and cooked cereal, for 10 days, combined with alkaline powders, which provided symptomatic relief for peptic ulcer disease. Over the next several decades, the Sippy regimen resulted in renal failure, alkalosis, and hypercalcaemia, mostly in men with peptic ulcer disease. These adverse effects were reversed when the regimen stopped, but it was fatal in some patients with protracted vomiting. Milk-alkali syndrome declined in men after effective treatments for peptic ulcer disease arose. Since the 1990s it has been most frequently reported in women taking calcium supplements above the recommended range of 1.2 to 1.5 grams daily, for prevention and treatment of osteoporosis, and is exacerbated by dehydration. Calcium has been added to over-the-counter products, which contributes to inadvertent excessive intake. Excessive calcium intake can lead to hypercalcemia, complications of which include vomiting, abdominal pain and altered mental status. As a food additive it is designated E170, and it has an INS number of 170. Used as an acidity regulator, anticaking agent, stabilizer or color it is approved for usage in the EU, USA and Australia and New Zealand. It is used in some soy milk and almond milk products as a source of dietary calcium; one study suggests that calcium carbonate might be as bioavailable as the calcium in cow’s milk. Calcium carbonate is also used as a firming agent in many canned and bottled vegetable products.