Production Of Sodium Hydroxide, Chlorine And Hydrogen
Sodium hydroxide, NaOH, also known as lye and caustic soda, is one of the most important of all industrial chemicals. It is produced at the rate of 25 billion pounds a year in the United States alone. The major method for producing it is the electrolysis of brine or "salt water," a solution of common salt, sodium chloride in water. Chlorine and hydrogen gases are produced as valuable byproducts.
When an electric current is passed through salt water, the negative chloride ions, Cl-, migrate to the positive anode and lose their electrons to become chlorine gas.
(The chlorine atoms then pair up to form Cl2molecules.) Meanwhile, sodium ions, Na+, are drawn to the negative cathode. But they do not pick up electrons to become sodium metal atoms as they do in molten salt, because in a water solution the water molecules themselves pick up electrons more easily than sodium ions do. What happens at the cathode, then, is
The hydroxide ions, together with the sodium ions that are already in the solution, constitute sodium hydroxide, which can be recovered by evaporation.
This so-called chloralkali process is the basis of an industry that has existed for well over a hundred years. By electricity, it converts cheap salt into valuable chlorine, hydrogen and sodium hydroxide. Among other uses, the chlorine is used in the purification of water, the hydrogen is used in the hydrogenation of oils, and the lye is used in making soap and paper.
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