Sciencemadness Discussion Board

If you had to set up a chem lab from absolute scratch with almost no money....

Xenon1898 - 22-1-2013 at 22:04

(This question is a little broad I realize, but anyway here goes) - This probably has been asked so hopefully someone can point me to an already documented resource. I want to list "the" basic chemical reagents/feedstocks needed to minimally stock a home chemistry lab, and then list the reactions one could use to produce these feedstocks from other common household chems or substances the average person could reasonably find (not purchased on Ebay, but items immediately nearby), either purchased cheaply at any retail store, AND how to make them via alternate rxn routes if needed. This is largely just an exercise, not that someone would actually want to make NaOH or KOH from wood ashes for example, but you could if you had to, that type of thing. So I am pretending there has been some major diseaster/economic collapse, and for all good reasons (hopefully) we want to set up a little lab from scratch to do a few basic yet useful things with chemistry - this is a little wide open but I was thinking purifying water, testing water purity, how to make NaOH, KOH, NaHCO3, H2SO4, HNO3, acetic acid, salts (neutralizations yes), pH indicators, metals (I guess these could be scrounged), the simple bare bones feedstock chems you think might be useful. The answer largely depends on the goals, which vary, but can anyone point me to resources that may already have lists similar to this? For example I am aware of plante1999's nice web site, that is one example. (please be gentle, notice what a noob I am to this list)

elementcollector1 - 22-1-2013 at 22:34

The simple home lab:

1) Table. Any table will work - just as long as you aren't eating off of it later!
2) The usuals:
-NaOH /KOH from slaked lime and sodium or potassium carbonate
-HCl from a few different methods (depends on what you have: NaCl + NaHSO4/H2SO4, H2 + Cl2, and so on...)
-H2SO4 from a few different methods (Electrolysis of soluble sulfate such as copper; burning of S into H2O2, etc...)
-HNO3: Sulfuric acid + any given nitrate salt + distillation
-Purifying water: Distillation, etc.
-pH indicators: Red cabbage leaves, turmeric powder, phenolpthalein
3) Apparatus:
-Distillation apparatus from, e.g. a metal can like those used for acetone and steel piping, or a glass apparatus (assuming you can find one in this presumably post-apocalyptic world)

Try looking up post-apocalypse survival sites, especially zombie apocalypse ones, and see what you can find about water; there may be a few interesting things. As for reagents, most are synthesizable from common items (chromium compounds from stainless steelware, manganese from the sludge in alkali or zinc-carbon batteries, and so on)
If you're after specific things, use Google with the search terms "sciencemadness (whatever you're looking for)" and you'll usually find a good thread or 5 on it.

All good reasons? More like to stand a chance against the anarchy that would soon follow such a catastrophic failure...

plante1999 - 23-1-2013 at 04:17

Nitrates salts, concentrated acid, copper sulphate and many other things are not easy to acquire. They do not occure normaly in nature.
You will also need mineralogy knowledge, to find your resources.

I will make a list I find better:
Enamel mug, this can serve as a glass beaker, but more resistant, and more durable.
S.S mug, when one want to do basic(basic in the pH sense) reaction, as enamel will be corroded by pH

For chemical you want to have one of the most classes:

Oxidizer: Air, air is cheap and there is no need to synthetise it.

base: Calcium oxide, can be made by heating strongly seashells, limestone, marble and many other mineral, when mixed with water it become calcium hydroxide

Reducing agent: charcoal is the best, but one could turn wood into charcoal using a dirt pit. It is cheap and very common

Iron is also a reducing agent, and is made when charcoal and it's ore are,pyrite or hematite are heated togueter. With a few free hour in a place with rocks one could find 100g worth of small cube (I use to do it) of pyrite. Pyrite worth way more than hematite as it contain sulphur, the most useful material to make your first acid.

Acid, one can pass water vapor and air on hot pyrite and condense the produced sulphuric acid, another product is iron III oxide, which can be used to make iron metal.

Miscellaneous: water, sand, clay, wood ashes, salt

[Edited on 23-1-2013 by plante1999]

[Edited on 23-1-2013 by plante1999]

[Edited on 23-1-2013 by plante1999]

smaerd - 23-1-2013 at 05:23

I can't tell you where to find exact chemicals for things I don't know that you'll want but I can tell you some neat places to look for things.
Pottery supply stores are also good spots for more obscure basic chemicals. From potassium carbonate to stannous chloride.

Beer/wine brewing supply stores are also good for things like filtration flasks, rubber stoppers, neat organic acids(citric, ascorbic, etc), gypsum, as well as things like phenolphthalein for titrations.

If there is a shop that has make your own soap supplies some neat things can be had there such as diatomaceuous earth, sodium hydroxide, etc.

Glass eye droppers can be found in a variety of places such as walmart. Pharmacies may sell you simple syringes which can be a cheap way of measuring volumes of things as well as plastic pipets. That's done behind the counter and, they may think your some kind of junkie looking to scurry into the alley, so it's probably best to just buy a graduated cylinder.

If there's a local witch, pagan, apothecary, aromatherapy type shop chances are they will carry brown amber bottles, vials with dropper lids etc. They may even have some simple plant materials to experiment with depending on what you're trying to do. Don't be scared to ask, the pagans and wiccans are nice people.

Some people use mason jars for flasks, I know I did when I was first starting out. Single mason jars and sometimes other containers can be found in craft stores usually very affordibly.

Hard-ware stores have things like trisodium phosphate, solvents by the gallon, acids and bases(learn to look up products MSDS's), in rare cases things like potassium permanganate.

Little plastic film containers can sometimes be had for free from drug stores and such if you talk to the right person with a nice tone of voice or know someone who does cashier work. Could be useful for storing some simple chemicals and you'd be helping them from reaching the garbage.

Old cellphone chargers can be used for simple DC power supplies for electrolysis. Also search for computer power supply's to electrolysis power supplies on the forum. Electrolysis is a lot of fun and opens up a couple door-ways to making some reagents from simple feed-stock.

Craft stores carry some things usually things like dyes and maybe a reducing agent such as sodium dithionite("Rit"). They may also carry things like vegetable glycerin which has a nice high boiling point.

Baking supply stores may carry some simple things for very cheap. Such as vanillin which is a great little building block with many simple-ish transformations that can be done to it.

Magnesium fire-starters are a good source of Mg metal check cheap surplus places like harbor freight or camping supply stores. Stores like these may also sell cheap equipment such as a rotary vane vacuum pump. Aluminum metal can be had from pop cans or aluminum foil. Copper metal from copper pipes at hard-ware stores. Theres a lot of easy metal sources.

Cheapest source of vacuum is a water aspirator check on-line for these.

The hobby does cost money but a lot of fun can be had from very little with a bit of creativity. I would suggest saving up and buying some simple glass-ware. Don't know what I'd be doing without a distillation/reflux set-up.

[Edited on 23-1-2013 by smaerd]

SM2 - 23-1-2013 at 06:36

You have so many excellent suggestions from my peers, above, and yet the list goes on. At a certain point, your lab may be able to produce a required chemical, and then you know - you truly have made a great lab from scratch!

LanthanumK - 23-1-2013 at 09:17

As a chemist who set up a home lab with almost no money, I did not purchase items beforehand. To maximize savings, I created a list of experiments that I would like to perform and purchased the necessary equipment and materials to perform those experiments. As mentioned above, many chemicals can be found in stores, avoiding the need for buying expensive reagent-grade substances. Personally, I started off with pool muriatic acid, copper electrical wire, 3% hydrogen peroxide, ammonia, sodium hydroxide drain cleaner, magnesium firestarter, electrolysis power supply, etc. Lead (with a small amount of antimony) I got from wheel weights collected from the roadside during walks; nickel I got from a Canadian nickel in the times when they were made of nickel; tin was from a pewter spoon at a yard sale. Extensive Googling and researching will come up with a surprising variety of substances you can obtain in everyday life.

Poppy - 23-1-2013 at 09:42

Quote: Originally posted by LanthanumK  
Lead (with a small amount of antimony) I got from wheel weights collected from the roadside during walks;

Omg I can't believe there are other crazy people going for those around in the streets!!!!

I would, in this case of a neolithic lab, use that lead to prepare a lead chamber mostly for sulfuric acid production. I would also find a good supplier of charcoal in the ton range, so that I could operate furnaces and recycle Barium compounds, also included would be HHO generator, ball mill made from cans and lead balls.
That and start collecting scraps of ss and iron, copper, and computer scraps from which I could grab important catalysts such as PGE and turn that over into a pyro dungeon!
for really violent pyro stuff:BaCr2O7 + H2SO4 --> BaSO4 + H2Cr2O7
then H2Cr2O7 + 2H2SO4 --> 2CrO3 + H2SO4.H2O
then hopefully reacting CrO3 with urea to give nitrogen oxides and make your own nitric!

elementcollector1 - 23-1-2013 at 09:58

Quote: Originally posted by Poppy  

for really violent pyro stuff:BaCr2O7 + H2SO4 --> BaSO4 + H2Cr2O7
then H2Cr2O7 + 2H2SO4 --> 2CrO3 + H2SO4.H2O
then hopefully reacting CrO3 with urea to give nitrogen oxides and make your own nitric!

Incidentally, does that work with other chromates than barium?

[Edited on 23-1-2013 by elementcollector1]

Poppy - 23-1-2013 at 16:27

Quote: Originally posted by elementcollector1  

Incidentally, does that work with other chromates than barium?

[Edited on 23-1-2013 by elementcollector1]

Well probably, in fact I think it works with calcium only, at very dilute proportions, then you got to filter the chromic acid and after its very concentrated you add sulfuric acid aided by a vaccum pump at 100°C to remove the hydrated acid. I've posted something about it somewhere, along a graph of sulfuric acid vapour pressure. Too bad I don't have a graphic for partial pressures in water.

Really good ideas

Xenon1898 - 23-1-2013 at 20:27

Hey thanks for the great ideas, I am taking notes.
I like the electrolysis idea. I will need to research that further.

What about a list of analytic indicator reagents for this cheapo chem lab to verify what our products are (or for other useful chemical tests)? Already mentioned were the cabbage juice, phenophalein for pH. For example I know that turmeric extract is a sensitive qualitative indicator for boron.

[Edited on 24-1-2013 by Xenon1898]

Poppy - 24-1-2013 at 05:39

One note: don't keep cabbage juice, it's active ingredient has a limited shelf life. Unless you titrate it acidically, preserving it maybe with some benzoate.

Urzah - 24-1-2013 at 08:11

As for Cabbage juice, you can keep it quite a few weeks or months if you mix a little alcohol in it. Ethanol or methanol will do it. Maybe you ca try with isopropyl that you can find in drugstore. It also reduce the cabbage smell.
I do keep it here more than one month long (refrigerated).

An other way to keep it for long is to freeze it. You can freeze Cabbage juice in those trays for make ice cubes. Then you unfreeze only the quantity you need :)

LanthanumK - 24-1-2013 at 12:14

I had cabbage juice with isopropanol for a couple years in a gourmet spice jar. Upon opening it did not seem any stinkier than it was originally. The pH part also still worked well.

chemrox - 24-1-2013 at 13:19

I don't remember the pH range for cabbage juice. Red cabbage, isn't it? Changing to nearly clear at around 4-6? Please remind us. To continue addressing your question, you cannot make something from nothing! Even mining chemicals requires an expenditure of time and gasoline. I found a zeolite location last year but unrefined zeolites may not serve well. Copper sulfate may indicate a valuable copper deposit so don't plan on being able to pick much up for free. Anyway, I suggest multiple sources for chems including the chem supply houses. You can get some chemicals through Ace Glass. Hardware stores carry a few good solvents. Liquor stores sell 98% ethanol as "ever clear" taxes included in the US and Canada. Methanol can be had for ~$2/gal as racing fuel. I'm told nitromethane can be acquired similarly, as a racing fuel additive. You can buy metal salts from pottery supplies. Also silica and alumina but mesh sizes are sometimes a problem. You can buy very pure clay and diatomaceous earth from pool supplies. Pool suppliers also sell sources of chlorine and bromine. Don't neglect ebay for various organic and inorganic compounds. Ebay can be a good source for used equipment as well. For oil bath users visit the auto parts store. The thrift store may yield an oil heater for said bath. I bought a deep fat fryer for <$5 that maintains ± 2°C. Pantry Scientific sells both chemicals and a very competitive line of high quality glassware. Make contact through, undead chemist or me.

[Edited on 25-1-2013 by chemrox]

Gearhead_Shem_Tov - 24-1-2013 at 16:56

Quote: Originally posted by chemrox  
... Pantry Scientific sells a both chemicals and a very competitive line of high quality glassware. Make contact through, undead chemist or me.

The URL doesn't work. I'm supposing it's really supposed to be .org instead?


chemrox - 24-1-2013 at 17:08

Maybe its down. He has his own server and mine isn't up yet. What do you need? Send me a u2u. Or did you just want to browse?

Xenon1898 - 4-2-2013 at 19:31

Quote: Originally posted by chemrox  
I don't remember the pH range for cabbage juice. Red cabbage, isn't it? Changing to nearly clear at around 4-6? Please remind us.
[Edited on 25-1-2013 by chemrox]

Attached.... pretty colors :-)

Red cabbage juice pH range.jpg - 23kB