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Element, Properties, Uses, Functions

Potassium Element Information

Potassium (K), chemical element, or silvery-white alkali metal of Group-1 or IA of the periodic table. It was first isolated by Humphrey Davy in 1807 by the electrolysis of molten alkalis. Potassium is extensively involved in different types of biological processes in our life. Many of the compounds have been used from the early days of human civilization.

Potassium, alkali metal position on the periodic table elements

The physical and chemical properties of potassium can be readily understood in terms of its outer electronic configuration. It has only one electron in the s-orbital over a noble gas core. Due to very low first ionization energy, potassium losing one electron to form K+ cation.

Potassium element chemical symbol and periodic table properties

Potassium has the largest size among the period-3 elements. The large size and a small charge of the cation favored the formation of ionic bonding in the compounds. The small electron affinity and electronegativity also lead to the formation of ionic compounds. It gives a characteristic violet flame due to easy excitation of the outermost s-electron. This fact leads to the development of analytical chemistry for the estimation of metals by flame photometer. Some important properties of the elements are given below the table.

Properties of Potassium
Atomic number 19
Atomic weight 39.0983
Electronic Configuration [Ar] 4s1
Melting point 63.5 °C, ​146.3 °F
Boiling point  ​759 °C, ​1398 °F
Density 0.89 g/cm3
common oxidation number or States +1
Ionization energy 1st – 418.8 kJ/mol
2nd – 3052 kJ/mol
3rd – 4420 kJ/mol

Occurrence and Production

All the alkali metals like lithium, sodium, potassium, rubidium, and cesium are widely distributed in the earth’s crust of our nature. With the increasing atomic number, the elements become rare. Sylvite (KCl), sylvinite (KCl, NaCl), and Carnallite (KCl, MgCl2, 6H2O) are the most common ores of potassium metal. Like sodium, K salts are also leached out from the silicon minerals by the action of the weather. The soluble minerals of the metal are called potash. A massive deposit of potash is found in many places of the world like Germany, United Kingdom, Canada.

There are 25 known isotopes of potassium but only three like 39K, 40K, and 41K are found in nature. The radioactive isotopes of potassium have been used as tracers in studies of weathering and medicine.

Commercial production of potassium by electrolysis of molten KCl is not favored because it is quite soluble in the molten electrolyte and does not float on the top. Commercially, it was prepared by reduction of molten KCl by sodium metal at 850 °C. The reduction process is rather unusual since potassium is a better reducing agent than sodium but at 850 °C, they are in chemical equilibrium. But higher volatility of potassium metal in the temperature range 850 °C to 880 °C, sifts the equilibrium towards the right. Therefore fractional distillation carried out to obtained the metal.

Chemical Reactivity and Compounds

The large difference between the first and second ionization energy of elements suggests the preferred oxidation state of the alkali metals will be +1. The first ionization energy of potassium is more than the compensated lattice energy for most ionic compounds. Therefore, the major chemistry of potassium dominated in the form of K+ ions.


All the alkali metal hydrides are ionic in nature containing H ion. Potassium hydride is formed by the direct combination of hydrogen with metal at 350 to 600 °C. The cubic crystal lattice, KH is a colorless solid with a reasonably high melting point. On electrolysis of hydride, the potassium metal is migrated to the positive electrode or cathode, and hydrogen is migrated to the negative electrode or anode.


Potassium reacts readily with oxygen to form a number of binary compounds like monoxide (K2O), peroxide (K2O2), and superoxide (KO2). The stability of the superoxides increases with the increasing atomic size of the cations. The peroxide is prepared by oxidation of metal in liquid ammonia by oxygen. It is used to restore oxygen in submarines and space capsules for driver breathing apparatus.


Potassium hydroxide (KOH) is a very strong base with a high pH scale. It is a white crystalline solid soluble in water and alcohol. The meting point of alkali hydroxides decreases with the increasing atomic number of formation alkali metals. Measurement of proton affinities of alkali hydroxides suggests that the base strength increases from LiOH to CsOH.


Potassium halides are colorless, crystalline solids with high melting, boiling point, and high conductivity in the fused state. They all may be prepared by reacting KOH or K2CO3 with appropriate hydrogen halide. For a given cation the lattice energy decreases from lithium to cesium and for a given alkali metal the lattice energies decrease from fluorine to iodine. All the alkali metal halides crystalize as a face-centered cubic crystal lattice.

Uses of Potassium

For most of the soil, potassium ions are an essential component of plant nutrition. Potassium chloride (KCl) is an important compound that is used in different types of fertilizer to growing production of crops. Agricultural fertilizers consume 90 percent of the global production of metal in the form of KCl. It forms Na-K alloy which used in the heat exchanger in breeder reactors. Many compounds like KCl, KOH, K2CO3, KNO3, KClO3, KBr, KMnO4 are used in different types of chemical industries.

Potassium Compounds Uses
KCl used in important fertilizer like muriate of potash (MOP).
KOH used in rubber processing, preparation of potassium phosphate.
K2CO3 used in decorative glass, color TV tube, textile, dye, and pigment industry.
KClO3 used in explosives and matches.
KBr used in photography.
KMnO4 oxidizing agent or bleaching agent.

Potassium on direct burning in the air or oxygen to form KO2, which is used in oxygen supplement for submarines and space capsules.

Functions of Potassium

The function of sodium and potassium to penetrate cell membrane differ due to their ionic size. The metals also differ in their transport mechanism and efficiency to activate enzymes. Potassium occurs at a high concentration inside the cell but sodium occurs in the lower concentration inside the cell. It is used to activate many enzymes, the transmission of nerve signals, and participation in the oxidation of glucose to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP).