Recycling Aluminum Chemically

Adapted for use at Collin College by A. El-Ashmawy and C. F. Jury © 1998

Aluminum is the 3rd most abundant element in the earth’s crust. However, vast amounts of energy are necessary for the production of aluminum from its ore sources. This is why many communities have programs in place to recycle aluminum cans. The lifetime of an aluminum can on average is about 100 years. The littering of cans along roadways are not only an eyesore but also a drain on natural resources. This experiment will demonstrate a chemical technique for recycling used aluminum. You will prepare the compound potassium aluminum sulfate dodecahydrate, KAl(SO4)2 12 H2O, or Alum for short, from elemental aluminum. Alum is used in the paper industry, in processing pickles, in dying fabrics and in water purification as well as wastewater treatment. This technique can be used with aluminum cans but only after removing the exterior paint and the interior plastic coating. Aluminum is a reactive metal which reacts slowly with dilute acids. The rate of reaction is slowed by an aluminum oxide layer which protects the surface of the metal. Alkaline (basic) solutions attack the metal surface after dissolving the oxide layer. Excess base converts the aluminum to the tetrahydroxoaluminate III ion. This ion is only stable in basic solution. Upon the slow addition of acid (H2SO4), one of the hydroxide ions is removed, giving Al(OH)3 which forms a white flocculent precipitate. Continued addition of acid dissolves the Al(OH)3 precipitate, eventually forming the hydrated aluminum cation [Al(H2O)6]+3. One can also dissolve the Al(OH)3 precipitate by addition of alkali reforming the [Al(OH)4)]- complex. This kind of behavior, a hydroxide which is soluble in either acid or base is called amphoteric. Alums are ionic compounds which crystallize from solutions containing sulfate anion, a monovalent cation and a trivalent cation. Common cations used are K+, Na+, NH4+, Al+3, Cr+3, and Fe+3. Crystals of alums may grow to considerable size given the right conditions. These crystals form as cubes or octahedral, with the crystal lattice containing a total of 12 water molecules. Six water molecules are bound tightly to the trivalent cation, and six water molecules are bound loosely to the monovalent cation and sulfate anion.

2 Al(s) + 2 KOH(aq) + 6 H2O(l)  2 K+(aq) + 2 [Al(OH)4]-(aq) + 3 H2(g) 2 K+(aq) + 2 [Al(OH)4]-(aq) + H2SO4  2 Al(OH)3 + 2 H2O(l) + H+(aq) + 2 K+(aq) + SO4-2(aq) 2 Al(OH)3 + 3 H2SO4  2 Al+3 + 3 SO4-2(aq) + 3 H2O(l) K+(aq) + Al+3 + 2 SO4-2 + 12 H2O(l)  KAl(SO4)2 12 H2O(s) OVERALL: 2 Al(s) + 2 KOH(aq) + 22 H2O(l) + 4 H2SO4  2 [KAl(SO4)2 12 H2O(s)] + 3 H2(g)

PROCEDURE (Work in a fume hood)
1. W eigh approximately 1g of Al metal & place in a 250mL beaker. 2. Add 25mL 2.8M Potassium Hydroxide (KOH) to the beaker. W hat happened? 3. After five minutes, place the beaker on a hot plate & heat the reaction mixture GENTLY. 4. If the liquid level in the beaker drops to half the original volume, add deionized water to maintain the volume. Do not let the beaker dry out! W hat color is the reaction? 5. Heat the reaction until the reaction is complete. How will you know when this happens? 6. W hile the solution is HOT, it must be vacuum filtered to remove any undissolved materials. This is done using an aspirator and Buchner funnel system. Be sure your apparatus is securely clamped. Have the instructor check it before completing the filtration. What’s on the filter paper? W hat color is the filtrate? 7. Rinse the reaction beaker 2x with 5mL portions of deionized water, pouring each rinse through the filter. 8. Transfer the filtrate to a clean 250mL beaker. Rinse the filter flask with a 10mL portion of deionized water. Add this to the filtrate. 9. Cool the solution, slowly and carefully. 10. W hen the solution is cool, W ITH STIRRING add 20mL 9.0M Sulfuric Acid (H2SO4). Any observations? 11. If the solution is not clear, warm the solution GENTLY until it clears up. What species does this solution contain? Can you name them? (Hint: See equations on previous page) 12. Prepare an ice water bath by filling a 600mL beaker half full of crushed ice, just covered with water. 13. Place the 250mL beaker containing the filtrate in the ice bath. Allow to cool for 15 minutes. W hat is happening in the beaker? 14. W eigh a piece of filter paper. Clean and reassemble the vacuum filtration apparatus using the weighed filter paper. Filter your mixture. 15. Prepare an ethanol-water rinse by mixing 12mL ethanol with 12mL deionized water. Cool the rinse solution in the ice water bath for a few minutes. Rinse any solid which may be on the filter. Apply vacuum suction until all crystals are dry. 16. Allow any remaining product to air dry. 17. W eigh the alum crystals. 18. Show product to your instructor, the follow their instructions for storing your product (if needed).

REPORT—Recycling Aluminum Chemically Name: _____________________________ Class/Section: ______________ Data/ Observations
1. Mass of Al: _______________ 2. Al + KOH Observations (what color?): _________________________________________________________________________ 5. Reaction is complete when _________________________________________________ 6. (a) Vacuum filtration apparatus checked by instructor ________ (b) On Filter Paper: ______________________________________________________ (c) Color of Filtrate: ______________________________________________________ 17. Mass of Alum: _______________ 18. Alum shown to instructor: ________

Calculations (Show ALL work on the back of this sheet)
Mass of Al: _______________ Moles of Al: _______________ Mass of Alum produced: _______________ Moles of Alum produced: _______________ Theoretical yield of Alum: _______________ Percent yield of Alum: _______________

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