Sodium amalgam
Sodium amalgam, commonly denoted Na(Hg), is an alloy
An alloy is a mixture or metallic solid solution composed of two or more elements. Complete solid solution alloys give single solid phase microstructure, while partial solutions give two or more phases that may or may not be homogeneous in distribution, depending on thermal history...

 of mercury
Mercury (element)
Mercury is a chemical element with the symbol Hg and atomic number 80. It is also known as quicksilver or hydrargyrum...

 and sodium
Sodium is a chemical element with the symbol Na and atomic number 11. It is a soft, silvery-white, highly reactive metal and is a member of the alkali metals; its only stable isotope is 23Na. It is an abundant element that exists in numerous minerals, most commonly as sodium chloride...

. The term amalgam
Amalgam (chemistry)
An amalgam is a substance formed by the reaction of mercury with another metal. Almost all metals can form amalgams with mercury, notable exceptions being iron and platinum. Silver-mercury amalgams are important in dentistry, and gold-mercury amalgam is used in the extraction of gold from ore.The...

 is used for alloys, intermetallic compounds, and solutions (both solid solutions and liquid solutions) involving mercury as a major component. Sodium amalgam is often used in reactions as strong reducing agents with better handling properties compared to solid sodium. They are less dangerously reactive toward water and in fact are often used as an aqueous suspension.

Structure and compositions

No particular formula is assigned to "sodium amalgam." Na5Hg8 and Na3Hg are well defined compounds. In sodium amalgams, the Hg-Hg distances are expanded to around 5 Å
The angstrom or ångström, is a unit of length equal to 1/10,000,000,000 of a meter . Its symbol is the Swedish letter Å....

 vs. about 3 Å for mercury itself. Usually amalgams are classified on the weight percent of sodium. Amalgams with 2% Na are solids at room temperature, whereas some more dilute amalgams remain liquid.


Metallic sodium dissolves in mercury exothermic
In thermodynamics, the term exothermic describes a process or reaction that releases energy from the system, usually in the form of heat, but also in the form of light , electricity , or sound...

ally, i.e. with the release of heat, therefore, formation of sodium amalgam is famously dangerous for the generating sparks. The process causes localised boiling of the mercury and for this reason the formation is usually conducted in a fume hood and often performed using air-free technique
Air-free technique
Air-free techniques refer to a range of manipulations in the chemistry laboratory for the handling of compounds that are air-sensitive. These techniques prevent the compounds from reacting with components of air, usually water and oxygen; less commonly carbon dioxide and nitrogen...

s, such as synthesis under anhydrous liquid paraffin. Sodium amalgam may be prepared in the laboratory by dissolving sodium metal in mercury or the reverse. Sodium amalgams can be purchased from chemical supply houses.


Since its introduction in the 1880s by students of Robert Bunsen
Robert Bunsen
Robert Wilhelm Eberhard Bunsen was a German chemist. He investigated emission spectra of heated elements, and discovered caesium and rubidium with Gustav Kirchhoff. Bunsen developed several gas-analytical methods, was a pioneer in photochemistry, and did early work in the field of organoarsenic...

, Julius Tafel
Julius Tafel
Julius Tafel was an Swiss chemist.-Work:He worked first with Hermann Emil Fischer on the field of organic chemistry, but changed to electrochemistry after his work with Wilhelm Ostwald...

 and Hans Goldschmidt
Hans Goldschmidt
Johannes Wilhelm "Hans" Goldschmidt was a German chemist.Born in Berlin, he was a student of Robert Bunsen. His father, Theodor Goldschmidt, was the founder of the chemical company Chemische Fabrik Th...

, sodium amalgam has also been used in organic chemistry
Organic chemistry
Organic chemistry is a subdiscipline within chemistry involving the scientific study of the structure, properties, composition, reactions, and preparation of carbon-based compounds, hydrocarbons, and their derivatives...

 as a powerful reducing agent
Reducing agent
A reducing agent is the element or compound in a reduction-oxidation reaction that donates an electron to another species; however, since the reducer loses an electron we say it is "oxidized"...

, which is safer to handle than sodium itself. An example of its use is in the Emde degradation
Emde degradation
The Emde degradation is a method for the reduction of a quaternary ammonium cation to a tertiary amine with sodium amalgam...


A sodium amalgam is used in the design of the high pressure sodium lamp
Sodium vapor lamp
A sodium vapor lamp is a gas discharge lamp that uses sodium in an excited state to produce light. There are two varieties of such lamps: low pressure and high pressure...

 providing sodium to produce the proper color, and mercury to tailor the electrical characteristics of the lamp.

Mercury cell electrolysis

Sodium amalgam is a by-product
A by-product is a secondary product derived from a manufacturing process or chemical reaction. It is not the primary product or service being produced.A by-product can be useful and marketable or it can be considered waste....

 of chlorine
Chlorine is the chemical element with atomic number 17 and symbol Cl. It is the second lightest halogen, found in the periodic table in group 17. The element forms diatomic molecules under standard conditions, called dichlorine...

 manufactured by mercury cell electrolysis. In this cell, brine
Brine is water, saturated or nearly saturated with salt .Brine is used to preserve vegetables, fruit, fish, and meat, in a process known as brining . Brine is also commonly used to age Halloumi and Feta cheeses, or for pickling foodstuffs, as a means of preserving them...

 (concentrated sodium chloride
Sodium chloride
Sodium chloride, also known as salt, common salt, table salt or halite, is an inorganic compound with the formula NaCl. Sodium chloride is the salt most responsible for the salinity of the ocean and of the extracellular fluid of many multicellular organisms...

 solution) is electrolysed
In chemistry and manufacturing, electrolysis is a method of using a direct electric current to drive an otherwise non-spontaneous chemical reaction...

 between a liquid mercury cathode
A cathode is an electrode through which electric current flows out of a polarized electrical device. Mnemonic: CCD .Cathode polarity is not always negative...

 and a titanium
Titanium is a chemical element with the symbol Ti and atomic number 22. It has a low density and is a strong, lustrous, corrosion-resistant transition metal with a silver color....

 or graphite
The mineral graphite is one of the allotropes of carbon. It was named by Abraham Gottlob Werner in 1789 from the Ancient Greek γράφω , "to draw/write", for its use in pencils, where it is commonly called lead . Unlike diamond , graphite is an electrical conductor, a semimetal...

An anode is an electrode through which electric current flows into a polarized electrical device. Mnemonic: ACID ....

. Chlorine is formed at the anode, while sodium formed at the cathode dissolves into the mercury, making sodium amalgam. Normally this sodium amalgam is drawn off and reacted with water in a "decomposer cell" to produce hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

 gas, concentrated sodium hydroxide solution, and mercury to be recycled through the process. In principle, all the mercury should be completely recycled, but inevitably a small portion goes missing. Because of concerns about this mercury escaping into the environment, the mercury cell process is generally being replaced by plants which use a less toxic cathode.
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