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Uses of Potassium

The uses of potassium include its application in various industries as well as its biological application. This BiologyWise article highlights some of the key uses of potassium in various spheres of life.
BiologyWise Staff
Potassium is a chemical element that is represented by the chemical symbol K. This is the seventh most abundantly available metal found on the surface of the Earth. It is an alkali metal and is placed in the first group of periodic table. This element in its elemental form is silvery-white in color and is a highly reactive substance.
Uses in the Body
Potassium is an essential mineral for our body. It plays a vital role in the normal functioning of the body. It helps to maintain acidity levels and blood pressure. It is required for the transmission of electrical signals from nerves to the cells and vice versa. It also carries out other functions like regulation of water balance, muscle contraction (including that of the heart muscles), protein metabolism, etc. It is very important that the potassium levels in humans are properly balanced. This is because too much of this element in the blood leads to a condition called hyperkalemia, while too little will result in hypokalemia.

Symptoms of potassium deficiency include leg cramps, fatigue, weakness, irregular heartbeat, paralysis of muscles, etc. On the other hand, excess of this element in the blood can lead to low blood pressure and even heart attack. However, high potassium levels occur mainly due to some underlying health problems.

This element has a number of uses in medicine. Potassium chloride (KCl) is used in the preparation of supplements that are used to treat the deficiency resulting from low levels of this element in the body. It is also used in diuretic medicines and the use of such medicines causes loss of potassium from the body. Thus, it is included in health supplements to make up for that loss.
Uses in Plants
Potassium is an essential nutrients for plants. This element helps to control the functioning of the stomata present in the plant cells and various plant enzymes. It enables the stomata to regulate water within the plant efficiently and reduce loss of water through it. Thus, it takes care of plant health. In absence of potassium, plants are susceptible to diseases and are unable to withstand heat stress. Plants can obtain this element in the form of mineral from the soil. However, if the soil is potassium-deficient, then potassium nitrate is used as a fertilizer.
Industrial Uses
Different compounds of this element are used widely in various industries. Some of the key industrial uses are as follows:
  • Potassium hydroxide (KOH) has strong basic properties. Therefore, it is used for the neutralization of acids and thus helps in controlling the pH value. It is used in the preparation of different types of useful salts. It is used in saponification of fatty and oily substances and in various hydrolysis reactions.
  • The element forms an alloy with sodium, known as NaK which is found in the liquid state at room temperature. This alloy is used as a desiccant to produce various dry solvents. It is also used as a medium for heat transfer in several industries.
  • Potassium chromate (K2CrO4) is one compound that is widely used in manufacturing various items of our daily use. These include inks, dyes, safety matches, fireworks, fly paper, etc. It is needed in the tanning of leather too.
  • Potassium cyanide is capable of dissolving precious metals like gold and silver. For this reason, it finds a major industrial application in gold mining. The vapor of this element has found its use in different varieties of magnetometers. Potassium carbonate (K2CO3) is often referred to as potash and is used for manufacturing soap and glass.
While storing elemental potassium, care has to be taken as it is a reactive element. When it comes in contact with water (including atmospheric moisture), it reacts quite violently and produces hydrogen and a large amount of heat which when released may result in a huge explosion. For this reason, it has to be stored in kerosene for safety purposes. While handling this element, one should cover the body with protective gear to avoid any accidents.