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Please Pass the Sodium Chloride and Pepper

“Please pass the sodium chloride.” That’s just another way you can request the salt for your baked potato the next time you sit down with your family for dinner. Sodium chloride, regular table salt, is also known as the mineral halite.

Where does table salt come from? (Please, don’t say the supermarket). Halite, sodium chloride, is found naturally in huge geologic deposits of salt minerals left over from the slow evaporation of ancient seawater. (Are you surprised? Ever get a taste of seawater in your mouth at the beach?) These deposits are mined for various salts, including enough sodium chloride to fill many, many salt shakers!

NaCl is absolutely essential to life on earth. It is a necessary ingredient in the diets of people and animals. And sodium chloride has literally thousands of uses! One of those uses is to serve as a source of chlorine for chemical manufacturing. Why, you may ask? Here’s why: chlorine is known as a “workhorse chemical.” It plays a key role in the manufacture of thousands of products we depend on every day, including volleyballs, computers, cars, pool chemicals, medicines and cosmetics. Those are just a small sampling of the many items that are made using chlorine.

How do you think chlorine is freed from those tightly packed crystals of NaCl? Electricity is the tool used to electro-chemically split NaCl, releasing Cl for its many chemical uses. Chemical engineers design systems to make chlorine gas bubble out of salty, electrified water. The gas is captured and cooled down so much that it liquefies.

The whole process is very cool (but not safe for you to try at home). The average American consumes about 7 pounds of sodium chloride each year and more than 500 pounds over the course of a lifetime! Put that together with the use of all the products made using chlorine, and I think you will agree that NaCl is an essential compound!

Please pass the halite!

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