In this video we make sodium metal from menthol, sodium hydroxide, magnesium, baby oil, and a some lithium if necessary.
Sodium is a very famous and interesting metal that’s highly reactive even with water. it’s tremendously useful in chemistry for such purposes as reducing other compounds or drying solvents. however, being rather dangerously reactive it’s hard to get for the amateur without paying exorbitant fees. some years ago i showed how to make sodium by the thermochemical dioxane
Process. unfortunately it uses flames and generates lots of smoke so it must be performed outdoors. it’s also low yielding giving only 40% of theoretical production. in this video we’re going to make sodium metal without electrolysis using domestically available chemicals through the alcohol catalyzed magnesium reduction process. the advantage of this process over the
Thermochemical dioxane process is that it doesn’t produce flames and uses much lower temperatures. it’s also very high yielding, giving consistently better than 90% yields. to do it, we get a dry flask and start with 14g of magnesium metal, the finer the better. i’m using turnings, but i recommend powder if you can get it. this is available as drain opener from most
Hardware stores. for the reaction solvent, we add 125 ml of hypoallergenic baby oil. it’s important to use a mineral oil that has no additives, so be sure to check the label. now we can start making sodium with just this mixture. but the water in the sodium hydroxide will cause it etch the flask and ruin it before it dries out enough to start making sodium. to stop
This i recommend adding in 3g of sodium metal to jump start the reaction. now i know it seems circular to use sodium to make sodium, but we’ll end up with more than we started with. you can get the initial jump starter quantity by using the thermochemical dioxane process. alternatively, you can extract the lithium from one aa sized energizer or other non-rechargeable
Lithium battery and use that. the lithium will contaminate the sodium produced but the impact is minor and inconsequential for most amateur uses. if you retain a bit of sodium and repeatedly feed forward into your next runs the lithium will dilute to negligible levels. anyway, once the reaction mixture is made, we build the bubbler apparatus around it. here is the reaction
Mixture and i’ve covered it in foil to keep the heat in. we want to minimize temperature gradients and the best way to do that is to insulate it. on top of the flask we install a gas and thermometer adapter. unlike other catalysts like t-butanol, menthol has such a high boiling point that we don’t need a condenser. a thermocouple thermometer encapsulated in glass is
Inserted into the reaction mixture and is connected back here to the thermometer readout display. meanwhile, back at the adapter we also connect a tube to a bubbler. the idea behind the bubbler is that all gas generated is directed out the bubbler so we can monitor the reaction and prevent air from back flowing. do not use water because if the bubbler backflows it’ll
Suck water into the reaction mixture and explode. anyway, make sure the entire apparatus is airtight except for the bubbler. when you’re ready, turn on stirring, and heating, and raise the internal temperature to between 120 and 130 degrees celsius. adjust stirring so that all the solids are suspended. we don’t want any hotspots forming from solid material insulating
The glass from solution. what we’re doing is reacting the sodium or lithium starter metal with any moisture present to dry out the mixture and generate hydrogen as a side product. the actual reaction is more complicated but this is what’s happening overall. continuing heating for about two hours or until bubbling goes very slowly, like one bubble every ten seconds,
Whichever condition comes sooner. if you’re not using a sodium or lithium jump start then you can skip this step. now raise the temperature to 200 celsius and hold it there. what’s happening is the magnesium is reacting with the sodium hydroxide to produce magnesium oxide, sodium metal, and hydrogen gas. this gas bubbles out and serves as an indication of our progress.
You’ll also see the reaction mixture turn into a slurry of magnesium oxide and liquid sodium as the reaction progresses. the crystal menthol we added earlier is the key catalyst that makes this reaction work at these modest temperatures. without it, we’d have to use much higher temperatures like in the thermochemical dioxane process. unfortunately at those temperatures
The hydrogen ignites and catches fire and we lose a lot of our desired sodium. for menthol this takes about 30 to 40 hours, although my friends using powdered magnesium were able to finish in 15. anyway, at the end of the reaction the bubbling will stop and may even start back flowing. i’m going to raise the bubbler tube so i don’t lose more oil but this is optional.
Anyway, turn off the stirring and the heating and let the mixture cool. when it’s completely cooled, pour off the slurry through a kitchen sieve to collect any of the smaller drops of sodium. most of the sodium will have already coalesced into larger globs. i’m going to wash my sodium with baby oil but this is optional. you can see that most of the sodium is still in
The flask. if it’s too large to fit through the neck then you’ll need to cut it into smaller pieces and/or pull it out with pliers. and here it is, sodium metal made without electrolysis or even fire. now this sodium is also contaminated with leftover magnesium because we had to use an excess in our original mixture. for most amateur uses this is not an issue and this
Sodium is still very active and can be used for most experiments. but if you want to remove most of the leftover magnesium there are a couple of options. the brute force method is to first get a tall and thin container like a test tube and fill it with some mineral oil. around this test tube we pour oil into a beaker and set up an oil bath. the bath is heated until the
Sodium metal starts melting. a glass stir rod is used to press the molten sodium down and force it to merge into one solid piece. the molten sodium is thoroughly stirred and the magnesium is dislodged so it sinks to the bottom. the heating is turned off and a wire hook is inserted into the molten sodium to make it easier to pull out when it solidifies. i recommend rinsing
The sodium in oil to minimize air exposure. and here we are, one solid plug of sodium, pull out the wire since we don’t need it anymore. now using a sharp knife cut off about a fifth to a quarter of the bottom end of the sodium plug. this is the end where most of the magnesium sank to and by cutting it off we leave behind much purer sodium. some of the magnesium also
Sticks to the sides of the sodium so shave it off like like you’re peeling a carrot. at this point i’d like to draw your attention to the fresh sodium itself. we almost always see it after it’s been oxidized by the air and its very rare to see freshly cut sodium like this. it’ll soon go dull but we can still admire its fleeting beauty. anyway, be sure to cut off some of
The top of the sodium as well as some of the impurities will float on the sodium. now quickly recover all the sodium and store it in mineral oil. you can still use the impure sodium for most experiments and a great application is to feed it forward and use it as the jumpstarter sodium for making more sodium in future runs. the magnesium contamination will actually help
In that case. now this brute force method of melting and cutting the sodium to purify it is rather tedious so a more elegant process is leave the sodium in the flask after the production step and set up a reflux condenser on top. this dioxane can also be made by amateur means and i have a video on that linked in the video description. now boil it with vigorous stirring
For about two hours. this is just organic impurities embedded in the sodium from the production step as well as impurities in the dioxane. if everything went well then the sodium should float on top of the denser dioxane. occasionally, there might be a minor amount of magnesium sticking to the surface of the sodium but this should be negligible. once it’s completely
Cold, pour out the sodium through the kitchen sieve. be careful to collect just the sodium metal and leave behind the denser magnesium metal. now i recommend wicking away the excess dioxane from the sodium so we can get an accurate mass. the waste dioxane can be saved for later redistillation and recycling. anyway, the good thing about this the dioxane separation step
Over direct cutting is that you get excellent separation with only minor magnesium contamination and sodium loss. it’s good enough that you can get an accurate yield for the process, but remember to subtract the original starter quantity of sodium. in this case we actually have 10.9g out of an expected 11.5g or 94% yield. this is so much higher than the thermochemical
Dioxane process with a yield of only around 40%. store it away from air using mineral oil and preferably an airtight container as well. as you can see it’s a very simple and straightforward process that anyone could have figured out. i’m working on an advanced video that dives into the complex mechanism, because it’s not at all as simple as this overall reaction suggests.
Additionally, i’ll go into the history of the research as well as justifications for particular decisions like why i selected 200 celsius for the operating temperature and what alternative catalysts would also work for this process. i’m also continuing to find improvements and applications like making potassium or lithium metal. so please like this video and subscribe
To my channel if you’d like to stay informed. at this point i’d like to give special thanks to my patrons on patreon. this was essentially a miniature research project and through their financial support we were able to run the hundreds of tests needed to find the right catalysts, conditions, and make sodium production, easy. please consider becoming a patron so we can
Bring more research to the amateur community.
Transcribed from video
Make Sodium Metal with Menthol (and a bunch of other stuff…) By NurdRage