Metals are found mixed with earthy materials as ores. Ores are often

  1. concentrated and
  2. converted to oxides before extraction

Concentration of the ore can be  done by any of the following ways:

  1. washing away the earthy materials
  2. Froth- flotation (zinc ore): The ore is agitated (churned up ) with oil and water to form a froth. The froth is removed by blowing air through it
  3. By passing magnetic ores through a magnetic separator. The ore will be deflected while the non-magnetic or partially magnetic part of the ore will move on.

Roasting in Air

The ore is roasted in air to convert to an oxide. There is no need to roast if the ore is already an oxide.

Principle of Extraction of  metals

Those metals which are found in a combined state can be extracted through electrolysis or by chemical and thermal methods.  The selected method of extraction of any given metal depends on the stability of the ore.  The stability of the ore depends on the reactivity of the metal.

Metal Reactivity Most common ore Method of extraction






Very reactive

Chlorides Electrolysis of fused hydroxides and chlorides
Chlorides & Trioxocarbonates Electrolysis of fused chlorides






Moderately reactive Oxides CO32- and Sulphide Roasting of CO32- & sulphides to form oxides reduction of oxides by C of CO


Roasting in air
Heating in air







Least reactive




Free element



Mined as free elements




Sodium occurs as NaCl (rock salt), NaNO and often known as Chile saltpeter because it is found abundantly in Chile. It also occurs as borax and in complex trioxosilicates (iv) found in clay soil.

Extraction:  It is extracted by electrolysis of fused NaCl using the Downs cell. The cathode is a steel cylinder.  Fused NaCl (mp:801oc) is put in the cell where it is heated to keep it molten. CaCl2 is often added to lower the melting point of NaCl to about 600oC. Sodium and chloride are the products.

As the electrolysis progresses, the molten Na collects in the cathode chamber where it gets to the top and is collected through a pipe. A hood guides the gaseous chloride at the anode for collection.

At the cathode: Na+  + e-                  Na(s)     (Reduction )

At the anode : Cl-                Cl + e-             (Oxidation)

Cl  + Cl                 Cl2 (q)

Overall electrolysis reaction.

2Na+(g)  + 2Cl-(i)                   2Na(s)  + Cl2(g)

Physical Properties

  1. Silvery solid with metallic luster
  2. Flaots on water (density of 0.98)
  3. very malleable
  4. melting point of 97oC (Low for a metal)
  5. Good conductor of heat and electricity.

 Chemical Properties

  1. Reaction with air

4Na (s)   + O2(g)            2Na2O(s)

Na2O(s)  + H2O(g)            2NaOH (aq)

2NaOH (aq) + CO2(g)           Na2CO3(s)  + H2O (i)

Sodium tarnishes easily when exposed to air due to presence of oxygen.

Sodium is stored in paraffin oil, toluene or naphtha to prevent its oxidation by air. In excess air the reaction can be represented as follows:

2Na (g) + O2(g)                      Na2O2(g)

  1. Combination reaction: with H2, Cl2,S,P (with non-metals except Boron,carbon & Nitrogen)

2Na(s)  + H2(g)       2NaCl(g)

2Na(s) + Cl2(g)           2NaCl(g)

2Na(s) + S(g)           Na2S(s)

3Na(s)  + P(g)              Na2P(s)

In Hg

Na(s)  + Hg (l)                                Na/Hg(l)

With water: it reacts violently with cold water giving out a lot of heat and liberating hydrogen gas.

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2Na + H2O           Na2O + H2

2Na + 2H2O           2NaOH  + H2

  1. With acid:

2Na(s)  + 2HCl(aq)             2NaCl(aq)  + H2O

NB: The reaction is explosive and extremely dangerous

  1. with ammonia

2Na(s)   + 2NH3 (g)                       2NaNH2(s)  + H2 (g)

Test for sodium ions

Flame test: Na compounds give a golden yellow colour for non-luminous flame.

Note: Potassium gives a lilac (pale purple) flame which looks common (deep red) when viewed through a blue gas.


  1. It is used in manufacturing important compounds such as tetraethyl lead (Iv) .(Pb(C2H5)4
  2. Sodium vapour lamps (orange-yellow light) are used to light high ways and airports
  3. it is used in liquid form as a coolant in nuclear reactors
  4. Can be used as a reducing agent in combination with ethanol or sodium amalgam.
  5. Can be sued in the extraction of titanium to reduce titanium tetrachloride to the metal.

Compound of Sodium  The following are compounds of sodium: Na2O, Na2O2, NaOH, NaCl, Na2SO4, NaNO3, NaCO3.


Na2CO3 exists.

  1. As soda ash in the anhydrous state
  2. As a monohydrate, Na2CO3.H2
  • As a decahydrate (more often) Na2CO3.10H2O called washing soda

The laboratory preparation follows the three equations below:

  1. 2NaOH(aq) + CO2(g)             Na2CO3.   +     H2O(l)
  2. Na2CO3(aq) + H2O  +  CO2(g)              2NaHCO3 (s)
  3. 2NaHCO3(s) NagCO3 + H2O(g)  + CO2(g)

The NaHCO formed as a white ppt is filtered off, washed and heated to give he anhydrous Na2CO3. Na2CO3 is prepared industrially using the Solvay process. 


A concentrated sodium chloride solution is saturated with NH3 gas to produce ammoniacal brine this is allowed to fall into the top of a large tower.  As the solution passes through a series of baffle-plates (baffles) it react with CO2 which is forced up the tower under pressure.

  1. NH3(aq)  + CO2(g)   + H2O              NH4HCO3(aq)
  2. NH4HCO3(aq) + NaCl(aq)              NaHCO3(s)   + NH4Cl (aq)

The NaHCO3(aq)  is filtered, washed  and heated to yield anhydrous NaCO3, steam and CO2. the CO2 is used again in the tower.

  • 2NaHCO3(s) heat      Na2CO3(s)  + H2O  + CO2 (g)

The soda ash (anh. Na2CO3) can be dissolved in hot H2O and re-crystallized as washing soda

  1. Na2CO3(s) + 10HsO (l)

The economic importance of the process.

  1. The CO2 required in the process is obtained by heating CaCO3 in a lime kiln.

CaCO3(s)                    CaO(s)  + CO2(g)

  1. CaO(s) + 2 NH4Cl(aq)  CaCl2(aq)   + H2O (l)

The NH3 is recycled. The raw materials are NaCl, CaCO3. The only waste product is CaCl2.


  1. Write an equation to show the reaction of sodium with air.
  2. Explain briefly the economics of the Solvay process.
  3. Explain the reaction of sodium with cold water.
  4. Explain what happens to the following when they are exposed to the atmosphere;     (a) washing soda (b) caustic soda pellets


  1. Which of these is not an alkali? (a) Sodium hydroxide (b) Potassium hydroxide (c) Aqueous ammonia (d) none of the above
  2. Which compound is added to fused NaCl to lower its melting point? (a)CaCO3 (b) CaCl2 (c) Ca(OH)2  (d) Ca(NO3)2
  3. NaHCO3 is also called? (a) Chalk (b) Baking powder (c) Lime (d) Slaked lime
  4. What is the colour of sodium flame (a) white (b) red (c) black (d) green
  5. Sodium reacts explosively with cold water to liberate (a) Hydrogen (b) CO2 (c) O2 (d) Na2


  1. (a) Explain the Solvay process

(b) What is the function of NH3 in the process

  1. Why is it necessary to concentrate the ore before extraction of any metal?


See also




Nuclear Chemistry



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