Potassium is an element found purely as a result of manufacturing, as in nature it would react violently with water, which of course is very abundant. As a compound potassium is fairly common, and is thought to make up around 1.5% of the earths core. In nature the most common form is ionic salt, although it can also be found in some concentrations in all living things, because it is a necessary part of any functioning cell.
Despite being common, potassium was found relatively recently in 1807 by Sir Humphry Davy, the noted British chemist who was also involved in the discovery of several other elements. It was first derived from potash (Potassium hydroxide, KOH), which is also where the name is taken from. The word potash is originally taken from an alkali extracted in a pot, and derived from the ash of burnt wood. It has a low melting point of (63.38 C, 146.08 F), and a boiling point of (759 C, 1398 F)
Potassium has the symbol K in the periodic table, and belongs to group 1, meaning that it is an alkali metal. Like all alkali metals it reacts when placed in water in its pure form, often catching fire as a result of hydrogen production. If you were to put a small piece in some water you would also notice that it would shoot along in the water and fizz, perhaps even shooting out of the water at a violent speed, which is why this generally isn’t recommended.
Being an alkaline metal, potassium is very soft and can be cut with a knife, revealing a silvery color which quickly turns to grey when exposed to the air. It is also the second least dense metal behind lithium, meaning that it is also very light compared to most other elements. If places in a flame, potassium burns with a bright yellow flame similar to sodium, which it has man similarities to.
Many potassium salts can be found in large quantities on the bottom of sea and lake beds, which is where it is extracted from. Some of the larger harvesting and production locations of potassium include Canada, Germany and several locations in the United States. Lakes are generally used rather than sea water as the concentrations of the potassium salts is a to higher. The potassium itself is usually extracted through electrolysis, although there are several other lesser known methods of removal as well.
In the body, potassium is important for maintaining osmotic balance within interstitial fluids, which are basically the fluids in the spaces between organs. It is also essential in muscle contraction, neuron function in the brain and electrolyte balance in the body. Potassium is also found in many different types of food, such as bananas, orange juice, tomatoes and avocadoes. Although it is present in most plant based foods to some extent, and for most people consuming enough of it is not a problem.
There are some people however who have to limit their potassium intake. This is usually due to some sort of kidney disease or infection, since the kidneys are responsible for potassium excretion. If the kidneys aren’t functioning properly and potassium is allowed to build up too much, then fatal cardiac arrhythmia can result.
The other main use of potassium is within the fertilizer industry, which in fact uses up 93% of the worlds current production. It is used in the nitrate, chloride and sulfate forms for this purpose, and is commonly a major constituent in plant feed also. The other 7% is used in a large range of different applications, and potassium in its different forms is a very versatile element.
As well as its extensive use in fertilizer however, potassium also has a large range of other less well known uses.these range from it being a constituent in lethal injections, to being a substitute for table salt in two of its many forms. Baking powder is also made up largely of potassium sodium tartrate, and it is also used in food preservation in the form of potassium chloride, commonly with wine or beer.