Calcium oxide (CaO), more commonly known as lime or quick lime, has been studied by scholars as far back as the pre-Christian era. In his book Historia Naturalis, for example, Pliny the Elder discussed the preparation, properties, and uses of lime. Probably the first scientific paper on the substance was Dr. Joseph Black's "Experiments Upon Magnesia, Alba, Quick-lime, and Some Other Alkaline Substances," written in 1755.
Lime does not occur naturally since it reacts so readily with water (to form hydrated lime) and carbon dioxide (to form limestone). It is produced in very large quantities synthetically, however, by the heating of limestone. For many years, calcium oxide has ranked among the top ten chemicals in the United States in terms of production. Other common names by which the compound is known include burnt lime, unslaked lime, fluxing lime, and calx.
In its pure form, calcium oxide occurs as white crystals, white or gray lumps, or a white granular powder. It has a very high melting point of 4,662°F (2,572°C) and a boiling point of 5,162°F (2,850°C). It dissolves in and reacts with water to form calcium hydroxide and is soluble in acids and some organic solvents.
Like other calcium compounds, calcium oxide is used for many construction purposes, as in the manufacture of bricks, mortar, plaster, and stucco. Its high melting point makes it attractive as a refractory material, as in the lining of furnaces. The compound is also used in the manufacture of various types of glass. Common soda-lime glass, for example, contains about 12% calcium oxide, while high-melting aluminosilicate glass contains about 20% calcium oxide. One of the new forms of glass used to coat surgical implants contains an even higher ratio of calcium oxide, about 24% of the compound.
Among the many other applications of calcium oxide are its uses in the production of pulp and paper, in the removal of hair from animal hides, in clarifying cane and beet sugar, in poultry feeds, and as a drilling fluid.