Sodium - Commercial Production

Commercial Production

Enjoying rather specialized applications, only about 100,000 tonnes of metallic sodium are produced annually. Metallic sodium was first produced commercially in 1855 by carbothermal reduction of sodium carbonate at 1100 °C, in what is known as the Deville process:

Na2CO3 + 2 C → 2 Na + 3 CO

A related process based on the reduction of sodium hydroxide was developed in 1886.

Sodium is now produced commercially through the electrolysis of molten sodium chloride, based on a process patented in 1924. This is done in a Downs Cell in which the NaCl is mixed with calcium chloride to lower the melting point below 700 °C. As calcium is less electropositive than sodium, no calcium will be formed at the anode. This method is less expensive than the previous Castner process of electrolyzing sodium hydroxide.

Reagent-grade sodium in tonne quantities sold for about US$3.30/kg in 2009; lower purity metal sells for considerably less. The market for sodium is volatile due to the difficulty in its storage and shipping; it must be stored under a dry inert gas atmosphere or anhydrous mineral oil to prevent the formation of a surface layer of sodium oxide or sodium superoxide. These oxides can react violently in the presence of organic materials. Sodium will also burn violently when heated in air. Smaller quantities of sodium cost far more, in the range of US$165/kg; the high cost is partially due to the expense of shipping hazardous material.

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