Discovered in the 19th century, the sodium metal, in its purest form is a soft metal, which tarnishes within moments of exposure to air and also reacts vigorously to with water. Thought few, sodium as a metal has significant uses that are critical for few industries such as nuclear reactors. Read on to know more.
Sodium (Na) accounts for 2.6% of the atmosphere and is the 6th most abundant element on earth. Its most common compound is sodium chloride, the soluble salt which we consume in our daily lives. Besides being found in the vast oceans in abundance, the element is also found in various other minerals such as sodalite, zeolite and cryolite.
Uses of Sodium (as a metal)
- Sodium metal, in its liquid state, makes for a highly effective medium of heat exchange. It has a high heat capacity (absorbs a large amount of heat per gram of the metal) and low melting point and viscosity, therefore allowing for free flow through a pathway with little or no resistance. Due to this property, its highly demanded for in fast breeding nuclear reactors.
- Till a while back, sodium was commonly used for manufacturing tetramethyl and tetraethyl lead, which are effective anti-blocking additives. However, due to the environmental hazards posed by the alloys, they are now being phased out of many countries.
- Sodium metal is also used in the manufacture of other metals such as titanium and zirconium. Earlier magnesium was used for the production of these metals but recently sodium has become highly preferred for the manufacture of these metals.
- 10% of the sodium produced is used in the manufacture of highly specialized compounds such as sodium peroxide (Na2O2), sodium hydride (NaH), sodium alkoxide (NaOR), sodium amide (NaNH2) and sodium cyanide (NaCN).
- Sodium metal also finds its use in preparation of various organic compounds and in the reduction of various organic esters.
- The alloy formed by combining sodium metal with potassium (NaK) makes for an excellent chemical reducing agent and heat transfer agent. This is because some portions of potassium and sodium however, are liquids at room temperature.
Besides its used as a metal, sodium also finds its use in compounds such as sodium carbonate or soda ash (Na2CO3), sodium hydroxide or caustic soda (NaOH) and sodium bicarbonate or baking soda (NaHCO3). Sodium vapor is used often used for powering street lamps and of course sodium chloride or edible salt (NaCl).
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