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I'm facing a very similar issue as per question Make "org-latex-preview" load package so that it properly renders "tcolorbox" environments, using the mhchem latex package (version 4.09).

I'm using Emacs 28.1, org-mode 9.5.5, pdfTeX 3.141592653-2.6-1.40.22, ImageMagick 6.9.12 running on Fedora 37.

org-latex-packages-alist is set to '(("version=4" "mhchem" t))

I have tried setting org-preview-latex-default-process to dvipng, dvisvgm or imagemagick.

When the org file is exported to latex and PDF, the mhchem syntax is correctly interpreted and exported. And when calling org-latex-preview on \(2 + 3\) a preview is correctly generated. However, when calling org-latex-preview on \ce{Na2CO4} nothing happens.

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Solved by wrapping \ce{Na2CO4} with \(…\).

However, I'm still confused on why this is necessary, as \alpha{} of \pm{} get correctly “prettified” in α and ± without \(\).

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  • Not when you preview: \alpha and \pm stay as they are. They are not LaTeX fragments in the way that Org mode understands that term: explicit environments or things surrounded by math delimiters. Exporting is a different matter: there Org mode transcodes \alpha into \( \alpha \) and \pm into \textpm because the exporter "knows" that these things only make sense within a math environment - taking a look at the resulting LaTeX file should prove enlightening.
    – NickD
    Nov 29, 2022 at 22:27
  • BTW, the exporter "knows" these things through the org-entities table. The doc string of that variable and the related org-entities-user will tell you what the various columns mean.
    – NickD
    Nov 29, 2022 at 22:28
  • Thank you @NickD Dec 5, 2022 at 19:32

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