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Extraction, Properties and Uses of Sodium

Sodium is the seventh most abundant element by weight found in the

earth’s crust. The largest source of sodium is sodium chloride (NaCl) which
occurs as rock salt and in sea water.


Sodium is extracted from sodium chloride by a process is called as Downs


Downs process for extraction of sodium:

In this method sodium is obtained by the electrolysis of a mixture of

sodium chloride (40%) and calcium chloride (60%).The CaCl2 is added to
lower the melting point of sodium chloride from 1085 to 850K.

The reasons for lowering the temperature are:

i) The melting point of NaCl is very high and it is very difficult to

maintain this temperature.

ii) Sodium is volatile at high temperature and therefore, a part of the metal
formed may vaporize forming a fog.

Iii) Chlorine produced as by product may corrode the material of the vessel
at this temperature.

iv)The metal obtained at this temperature is in colloidal state and its

separation will be difficult.

The cell consists of steel tank with heat resistant bricks. A circular graphite
anode is placed in the center of the cell. It is surrounded by cylindrical iron
cathode. A dome shaped steel hood covers the anode which provides outlet
for the escape of Cl2 gas.
A fine wire gauze diaphragm separates the anode and cathode through
which molten NaCl may pass but molten sodium cannot pass. The wire
gauze separates anode compartments so that the sodium and chlorine
formed are not able to intermix and react with each other.
The sodium produced at cathode is in the molten state. Since it is lighter than the
molten electrolyte, it rises to the surface and taken out from the outlet.
The following reactions occur during electrolysis.

Sodium obtained by this method is 99.5% pure.

Advantage of Down’s process

1) Sodium metal obtained has high degree of purity (99.5%).

2) Starting material i.e. sodium chloride is very cheap.

3) Chlorine obtained is useful byproduct.

Properties of Sodium are explained in detail in general properties of S block


Uses of Sodium Chloride:

1) An alloy of sodium with mercury (called sodium amalgam) is used for

preparation of many organic compounds.
2) Liquid sodium or its alloy with potassium is used as coolant in fast breeder
nuclear reactors.

3) Sodium with lead alloys is used to prepare tetra ethyl lead (C2H5)4Pb, which
acts as an antiknock compound for petrol.

4) Sodium is used as reagent to detect the presence of nitrogen, sulphur and

halogens in organic compounds (Lassaigne extract).

5) Sodium is largely used in industry for the production of artificial rubber, dies,
drugs etc.

6) Sodium is used as a reducing agent in the extraction of Boron and Silicon.

7) It is also used as a reagent in Wurtz reaction for the synthesis of many organic

8) Sodium is also used to prepare many useful reagents such as sodamite

(NaNH2), sodium peroxide (Na2O2) and sodium cyanide (NaCN).

9) It is also used as a reducing agent in the extraction of boron and silicon.

10) It is also used in sodium vapor lamps.