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Making Mercury (Part 1)

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Mercury is an interesting metal and element, but it rarely occurs naturally.

The most commonly found form in nature is mercury sulfide, which is also known as cinnabar.

Depending on how it crystallizes, mercury sulfide can exist in two major forms.

So here we have the alpha form which is the most common one.

It has a really strong red color so when it's in a rock like this one, it's usually pretty easy to spot.

It depends on the conditions, but it can sometimes also form these very nice crystals.

Historically red cinnabar was isolated, ground up, and used as a pigment called vermilion.

The pigment was used in many things like paints, cosmetics, and carved Chinese lacquerware

However, due to toxicity issues, it has been almost completely phased out and replaced by safer synthetic pigments.

The black form also known as beta mercury sulfide or meta-cinnabar. It is a little bit rarer,

and it's not as pretty.

When mercury sulphide is produced chemically like I did in my other mercury waste video, it's usually in the beta form.

However, if it's heated above 400 °C, and then allowed to cool, it usually converts to the red form.

The mercury metal can be extracted from the sulfide in two major ways:

thermally, and chemically.

When heated in the presence of oxygen, mercury sulfide breaks down into metallic mercury and sulfur dioxide gas.

The heating process is normally incredibly hot and it's above the boiling point of mercury,

so the metallic mercury boils off and needs to be re-condensed and recovered.

It will still have a lot of other metal impurities in it though, so it often has to be redistilled and cleaned up. chemically?

The heating process is often done with metals like iron or zinc or other compounds which can help pull the sulfur off the mercury.

The major downside of this method is that it produces mercury vapor which can be quite dangerous.