Sodium metal isn't readily available naturally. This is because it’s a highly reactive metal. However, sodium metal can be separated from various sodium compounds such as sodium chloride. But, extracting sodium metal can be hazardous. The following article talks about the hazards associated with extracting sodium by yourself, and the widely used sodium production process discovered by Sir Humphry Davy. Read on.
Sodium metal is an alkali metal, has a low melting point, and is soft and highly reactive. It does not occur naturally in the metallic state, since it’s highly reactive, and has to be extracted from other sodium containing compounds such as sodium hydroxide.
Caution: Extracting Sodium can be hazardous
As mentioned above, sodium being a highly reactive element, the extraction process can be hazardous, and even lead to explosions and severe burns, if not executed properly. Hence, it’s always suggested that sodium metal be purchased from chemical suppliers rather than considering extracting it on your own. However, should you wish to undertake extraction by yourself, there are some things to consider:
- Small reactions, commonly referred to as back reactions, are a common occurrence when sodium will come in contact with oxygen or water vapor. Hence, have your protective gear on - gloves, face protection, apron and full sleeved clothes.
- Also, the sodium chloride solution that you’re using to extract sodium metal, will be at temperatures as high as 300 degrees, which can cause severe burns, if not handled carefully.
Now, the metal extraction process.
Making Sodium Metal
The production of sodium metal from its compounds were a challenge for chemists for a long time, because of the metal’s high reactivity. Electrolysis for instance, couldn’t be used for isolating sodium from sodium chloride, because the sodium metal produced would immediately react with the water present.
However, a method was finally developed by Sir Humphry Davy, back in the early 19th century, which has since been used as a base model for various modern methods of sodium production. This method involved melting or fusing, and then electrolyzing the sodium compound, which would release liquid sodium metal. This sodium metal liquid then collects at the electrolyte cell’s cathode, whereas the chlorine, which is in the gaseous state is released at the anode. The apparatus use in this sodium metal extraction process is Downs cell, named after it’s inventor J.Cloyd Down.
The sodium chloride added into the cell tank is in the form of molten mixture. Along with that, molten mixture of calcium chloride is added into the tank as well, which will help lower the melting point of sodium chloride even further. However, the ratio of sodium chloride to calcium chloride is required to be 40:60 for the melting point of sodium chloride to fall. On passing electric current through the mixtures, sodium ions migrate towards the anode to loose electrons and become sodium atoms. Chlorine ions on the other hand, migrate towards the cathode to loose ions and to become chlorine atoms.
Liquid sodium metal being less dense, rise to the surface where it can be easily collected. The purity of the sodium metal through this process of extraction is 99.8%.
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