Boron Based Life
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Basic Information

We use molecules based on carbon, or organic molecules, in our biochemistry, as they are flexible enough to make the complex structures that are necessary. Very few elements can support the variety of molecules that carbon makes. Most speculation about alien life and exotic life assumes that organic chemistry will be used, as more is known about organic chemistry and it is already known that it can support life. Boron is another element that may be able to make complex structures when combined with other elements, although it is much less common than carbon. It has been suggested as a possibility for alien biochemistry.

Many boron compounds have very similar structures to carbon molecules. Boron is just to the left of carbon, and combined with an element to the very right, such as nitrogen, phosphorus or arsenic, it makes analogous structures. Borazine is a ring with alternate boron and nitrogen atoms, which is similar to the simplest aromatic hydrocarbon, benzene. It is a clear liquid that decomposes in water, and can be made into an inorganic polymer known as polyborazylene. There is a synthetic material, boron nitride, with similar properties and uses to carbon graphite. There are clusters of boron linked by hydrogen atoms known as boranes, which ignite with a green flame with oxygen and may be used as aircraft fuel. There are a variety of compounds that contain both carbon and boron, as well.

A variety of different metabolisms and solvents could be used. They may be able to breathe oxygen and drink water, excreting a mixture of acids as wastes. However, many boranes and boron-nitrogen compounds are unstable in water, so it may be worth looking into Ammonia As A Biological Solvent if you are interested in boron-based life.

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Game and Story Use

  • The use of boron for pyrotechnics means we should expect boron-based 'firewood' and 'coal' to burn violently and make vivid green fires.
    • As rotting matter decomposes, it may emit boranes that ignite spontaneously into green sparks upon contact with oxygen.
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