Make Nitric Acid - the Complete Guide

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About: NurdRage is a dedicate group of science nerds trying to further amateur science with direct how-to instructions in video format. We saw what was already online and we thought "we could do better".....

We show 3 ways to make nitric acid based on two different chemical approaches both of which can be done using easily accessible materials.

Warning: The procedures in this video produce large quantities of toxic gases and deal with highly corrosive acids. All work must be performed in a fume hood with proper safety equipment. And all apparatus must be glass to withstand the acids.

Chemically, nitric acid is made by bubbling nitrogen dioxide into water. So the objective in this approach is to generate nitrogen dioxide. This can be done by reacting hydrochloric acid, a nitrate salt and copper. Around 80grams of sodium nitrate, over 30 grams of copper and 100mL of hydrochloric acid are the quantities needed. The exact amount is not critical. For useable concentrations, the amount of water being converted should be small, around 20-50mL.

Any source of nitrate is usable including potassium nitrate, ammonium nitrate and even nitrate-based fertilizers. You can use our previous video on testing for nitrates if you want to determine if yours can be used. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5M3rUqaEYs

The tricky part now is leading the gas into water. Two approaches are shown in the video. In the first approach three containers, such as jars are place inside each other to force the gas to go into the water. This is very inefficient but is very simple to do.

The better approach is to lead the gas out of the generator through a tube and into a chilled container of water.

The water that is converted into nitric acid can be replaced with hydrogen peroxide for better yield.

The chemical waste that is generated contains the valuable copper used before and recovering it is worthwhile due to todays high copper prices. This is simply done by putting in enough aluminum metal that it reacts with all the acids and copper in solution to create a slurry of copper. This can be filtered to obtain a residue of copper. it is highly contaminated but can still be used to make more nitric acid.

Finally, the last way of making pure nitric acid is to react concentrated sulfuric acid and a pure nitrate salt (NOT fertilizer) and heat it in a glass distillation apparatus to distill over the pure nitric acid. Stochiometric quantities of both reagents are recommended for maximum yield.

We get our glassware from chemglass or VWR

If you like our video, please check our others at http://www.youtube.com/nurdrage

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    82 Discussions

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    SarahJ159

    11 months ago

    There's another video that followed the instructions on this video and acid began overflowing through the tube. He pulled it out before it reached the pipette and it spilled on the concrete. He neutralized the spill with baking soda. My question is- What would you do with the cylinder of super duper weak nitric? Can you just grab a new flask, add more nitrate salts, Cu, H2O and acid and hook it back up? Will this affect the contents of the cylinder?

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    SHOE0007

    1 year ago

    Could Mangesium nitrate and a strong acid like sulfuric acid give you Nitric acid??? Please respond quickly if this would work.

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    WiredVisionMickeymouse121

    Reply 1 year ago

    Yes most any nitrate, except ammonium nitrate could decompose your product due to ammonia being a strong base. Both Sodium or Potassium Nitrate work fine though

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    WessonS

    2 years ago

    What is the Nitric acid strength (e.g. 68% or 70%) when you combine 93% virgin Sulfuric acid with Potassium nitrate?

    I am not referring to a distillation strength, just the strength of the Nitric acid produced when combining the two reagents.

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    luuyl

    2 years ago

    Question: roughly what is the minimum temperature needed to react the Sodium Nitrate and Sulfuric acid?

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    lemonie

    9 years ago on Introduction

    Oooh, this might be nice but it's all wrong (in principle). Nitric acid is made from ammonia, and nitrates are made from that, so you're going backwards here... Is there anyway of burning ammonia in the lab? L

    13 replies
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    NurdRagelemonie

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    All wrong? so I'm not making nitric acid? The point is not to make nitric acid on an industrial scale. The point is to enable an individual without a massive platinum-rhodium catalyst to make it themselves. Electric heating is also going "backwards": a power plant uses a powerful thermal reaction, such as coal, oil, natural gas or nuclear and then drives a generator to make electricity which is sent to your house. Your electric "furnace" or stove converts that back into heat for home use. Sounds backwards, but this is still done for many homes due to convenience and safety issues. Its more convenient to make nitric acid by converting commercial nitrates than to reduce nitrogen into ammonia and then oxidize ammonia into nitric acid. Sorry if this violates scientific principles. Reducing nitrogen on an industrial scale is done by the Haber process where nitrogen is reacted with hydrogen under high pressure and temperature over a catalyst. Oxidation of ammonia is done by the Ostwald process using a platinum-rhodium catalyst. Both methods are entirely beyond the individual due to extreme costs.

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    lemonieNurdRage

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    My thinking was along the lines of: nitrate & nitric acid equilibrate, so if you add hydrochloric acid to nitrate you're done in that step. But more than that, if you've got the fume hood, proper safety equipment and all apparatus you've got a bottle of nitric acid in your lab anyway (and you have I know). It's nice to see but isn't really practical. I've seen US army handbooks on improvised munitions explain how to concentrate (car) battery-acid, produce nitric, make nitrating mixture, improvise explosives etc - I do get it. I'm just being picky on a point of principle, nothing more than that - I like this stuff! L

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    luuyllemonie

    Reply 2 years ago

    Yes NurdRage may have a bottle of nitric acid in hand. However, living in the UK unless you have a license and a nice wad of cash it is very hard to get your hands on concentrated nitric acid. I personally need it to make aqua regia as I am playing with gold refining. So yes it may be a useless practise for NerdRage or yourself but there are few easy and relativly cheap ways i can get my hands on concentrated Nitric acid.

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    Jaycublemonie

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    "...if you add hydrochloric acid to nitrate you're done in that step." Does this mean that I could just mix kno3 with muriatic acid and it would be nitric acid even without the bubbling step?

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    Jaycublemonie

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    If I boiled the water out of the muriatic acid and mixed concentrated hydrochloric acid with the kno3 would the nitric acid be stronger? Then could I distill it to make it even stronger? My bubbling experiment didn't work very well.

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    lemonieJaycub

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Theoretically yes, but these things equilibrate and stuff. What do you want nitric acid for anyway? L

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    NurdRageJaycub

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Creating deadly improvised explosive devices that have killed and maimed for FUN?

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    JaycubNurdRage

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I'm not a terrorist!!! They only kill or maime if you use them wrong. I just really like fireworks.

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    NurdRageJaycub

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Your various errors in the understanding of chemistry means that inevitably you will make a costly mistake. You're already using the chemistry "wrong" it's painfully obvious that you do not really understand what you are doing. If you don't understand then you cannot reasonably make a judgment of how to do something right. The power of science over things like games is that it's real, and accomplishes real things. Unfortunately it also causes real damage, real injury, and real death. I'm not trying to be mean. I appreciate your curiosity in science. But if you die that's one less potential scientist for the world. Almost any other science i'll help with. But the problem with explosives is that if something goes wrong, you don't have time to run.