Pure (ish) water is an essential for life, not just chemistry. Preparing it at scale is important.
Distilling impure water gives a distillate with no dissolved solids or biological pathogens. There are compounds which form azeotropes with water, so the distillate may not be completely pure, but it will be adequate for our purposes.
A Natural Diversion
Ethanol and acetic acid are both produced as waste products by microbes. We will turn aside from our stream of logical goals to explore the principle of "Let nature do the heavy lifting."
- The production of ethanol and acetic acid is still done the way we do it here. There are other methods but we will follow the original path. Natural yeasts produce ethanol from sugars, and acetobacter produce acetic acid from ethanol. Both yeasts and acetobacter are ubiquitous in our environment, and are easy to capture and culture. Both ethanol and acetic acid are useful materials, and as a side benefit, yeasts produce carbon dioxide as a biproduct of producing ethanol. Nature is willing to do a lot of chemistry for us if we'll just let her.
- C6H12O6 → 2 C2H5OH + 2 CO2 // yeast fermentation
- C2H5OH + O2 → CH3COOH + H2O // acetobacter fermentation
Calcium hydroxide is a strong alkali and can be used to produce sodium hydroxide, an essential industrial chemical.
- Gather limestone
- Heat it, producing calcium oxide.
- Slake it with water, producing calcium hydroxide.
Ammonia is an essential industrial chemical. It is the primary source of non-elemental nitrogen. Thus, producing some must be an early goal.
- Currently, ammonia is mostly made by the Haber process. Unfortunately this requires high temperatures, high pressures, and catalysts to work at anything more than a "droplets" scale, definitely not benchtop chemistry.
- It may be worth noting that the urine of some animals (fish and mice, for instance) is almost entirely ammonia, so collecting vast amounts of mouse urine is an alternative. We will not be exploring this.
- We will hydrolyze urea which is a naturally occurring component of the urine of most large animals, including humans. This we can do on a benchtop
It can be argued that sulfuric acid is the primary industrial chemical. For the 19th and most of the 20th centuries, measuring a nation's sulfuric acid production was a good indicator of their degree of industrialization.
- Currently most sulfuric acid is produced by the contact process. Unfortunately this requires catalysts made of uncommonly rare materials, usually platinum or vanadium pentoxide. It is also done at high temperatures. This is not impossible on the benchtop, but for now we will seek an easier way.
- We will produce sulfuric acid by the copper chloride process. Since copper chloride is not naturally occurring (except in very rare circumstances) we will first need to produce that.
- What is NOWA-CL?
- There's a video on that question.
- NOWA stands for Naturally Occurring Widely Available. The CL stands for Chemical Library. This project is about documenting the technological steps involved in developing a library of chemical compounds that can be made with simple equipment from materials that are naturally occurring and widely available. There's no need to order chemicals from supply houses, or obtain them from over-the-counter products. Once a chemical has been produced in quantity from naturally occurring widely available sources, we add it to our "library". Then we can use that material to produce new materials. The important part is to demonstrate that they can be produced from these sources with minimal equipment: what the chemical industry refers to as "small-scale" or "laboratory" synthesis.
The documentary part of this project will include two main products: the text on this wiki and the videos on YouTube.
- So it's a recipe book where people can learn how to make chemicals?
- Definitely not. See the warning on our front page. Chemistry equipment can be dangerous by itself. Many materials (including the ones we work with here) are dangerous: toxic, flammable, corrosive, etc. These operations should not be repeated or reproduced except by people who are sufficiently qualified to do the work and handle the materials safely.
- Isn't there a kind of chicken-and-egg problem? What is your equipment made of?
- That's a good point. We assume that the equipment itself (glassware, supports, heat sources, etc) are available at the beginning. The equipment itself may not be naturally occurring, but it's widely available, accessible, and relatively cheap. The purpose of this project is to demonstrate that the process is the important part, not the chemicals you start with. It's the knowledge, not the resources, that enable the science.
- There are already too many wikis out there. Why start a new one? (aka Why not just put this information in Wikipedia?)
- Aggregating and disseminating this information was the purpose of this project, and wikis are an excellent way to do both of those things, so that part is straightforward.
- Wikipedia is specifically not a textbook, guidebook, or instruction manual. That means it isn't appropriate to build out those entries with much of the data in this wiki. To whatever degree it makes sense for both projects, sharing of data is welcomed and encouraged. NB: A lot of the numeric data in this wiki comes directly from either Wikipedia or its underlying sources.
ANY pursuit can be dangerous to the inexperienced, unprepared, or incautious. That is definitely the case with the reactions, extractions, and syntheses this project entails. Do not repeat them unless you are sufficiently informed, prepared, and equipped to handle these materials and safely do the work shown.