Wednesday, March 21, 2018

What 3000 metric tons of cobalt might look like

Credit: Photographer Jasper Juinen, for Bloomberg
I've worked in scale-up for quite a while now, but it's always still a kick to see what bulk containers of compounds (or elements) look like. Courtesy of Bloomberg Businessweek, a picture of a cobalt trader and part of his stockpile of 3000 metric tons of cobalt.

Readers, what's the largest, weirdest container of compound you've ever seen? I'll start: I've seen a bulk container of bromine and lived to tell the tale. 

17 comments:

  1. a 55 gallon drum of ferrachrom. I asked for a sample for a polymer filler. Our forklift couldn't move it.

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  2. My lab is down the hall from raw material storage for production. Every time I need to send samples out I have to pass by the rows and rows of freezers that contain the enzymes used in manufacturing.

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  3. My dad used to manage a pickle warehouse. In peak season, they'd have around 3 million cases of various products. He perpetually smelled like vinegar.

    On the chemical side, the one I found the most interesting was Dow Corning's vault of platinum, which was basically few flammable cabinets filled with 4L bottles of the common hydrosilylation catalysts. God knows what it was worth, but obviously many millions.

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  4. Similar to technogypsy - during my student days I ordered 100 mg of iodine crystals in order to stain certain bioactive lipids I used to separate on TLC plates (those were the days...). A few days later I received a delivery consisting of a massive, heavy 55 gallon steel drum which gave me a slight shock as I thought I had maybe ordered 100 kg of the stuff by mistake. Fortunately, the drum really only contained a very securely packed glass container with 100 mg iodine so I didn't make it to "legends of the lab" list - unlike the one colleague who actually had managed to order 100 kg of glucose by mistake a few years back ;-)

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    1. Anon 8:30. Only 3 to 5 years ago, I ordered maybe 500 to 1000 grams of Iodine from EMD and it came in a box with typical packing material.

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    2. That reminds me of how bromine was arriving in my grad school lab. Glass bottle, inside a plastic bag, inside a metal can. Inside a cardboard box. Inside a steel drum. And in between all the layers you had either vermiculite, packing peanuts or those absorbent pads.

      Funny part was opening the steel drum. It had those thick crimped down tabs. One time a junior (maybe 1st year MSc) received and attempt to open it. Did not know the trick (I would use flat nosed pliers as a lever). So he called two of my (male)colleagues, 3rd and 4th year PhD (I was in my 4th year PhD too). They had never dealt with it either and the three of them struggled for 20 min. I ended up rescuing them, giving them pliers and even had to show them how to use them. The funny part is I am a girl about half their size. Brains always win over brawn :)

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  5. This barn filled with mountains of urea granules: https://iowafertilizer.com/assets/uploads/2015/08/BR3A3179-600x350.jpg

    And these two tanks full of anhydrous ammonia: iowafertilizer.com/assets/uploads/2015/08/BR3A6351-600x350.jpg

    Pictures are from the company website and show the "containers" while they were under construction. Here's an overhead view of the completed storage area to drive the scale home: https://goo.gl/maps/RTtVNv8TzTD2

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  6. My site has a large (>2k gallons) storage of compressed bromine and a 1MM gallon (roughly 3.8 million liters) tank of methanol. It is boggling to think every mL of MeOH that I used in grad school combined could go missing from the tank, and no one would likely notice.

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  7. A long time a go I worked at an oil refinery in the analytical group where when cleaning out a store room one summer we came across a old metal drum (30 gallon I think) full of Sodium metal as large cylinder chucks (double soup can size) in a mineral oil so not much different than see in lab. One of the old hands told us there used to be a routine test method that called for a liquid sodium bath and even showed us the surprisingly "open bath" apparatus used and he suggested no special precautions to cover or contain the metal beyond loose metal lid during non-use an then regular skimming crud off the top and adding fresh Na occasionally. The amount of Na in the drum probably was enough for 10-15 years of continuous runs. Having "played" with sodium chucks by tossing marble sized pieces into fountains, with and without soap, it amazed me that there was no major accidents reported. We did have a disposal company haul it away even though a couple of us try to get the lab head to allow us to take one of the chunks out to a remote drainage pond for a "show" but was worried could not do so without triggering Emergency Response Team.

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  8. Army biomedical lab fume hood... sergeant points to an ancient, rusty quart paint can and says "I think it's an organophosphate". Registering my surprise, he said "yeah, that's why it's in the hood."

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    1. welp run away

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    2. 5 kg pails of ethidium bromide. Overrated in how dangerous it was, but in a biological chemistry group that was enough to run gels for a thousand lifetimes. No idea why they were there, it's not like they had a herd of cows.

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    3. http://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2016/04/18/the-myth-of-ethidium-bromide

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  9. Two ~3 liter jars of decades old 60% oleum (60% SO3 in H2SO4), with lumps of solid oleum floating inside. Had to dilute it to ~3%, burned a hole in my boots. Btw this was at uni.

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  10. Plastic, one-gallon, wide-mouth bottle of oxo catalyst. Complete with standard plastic spoon for scooping. Still mostly triphenylphosphine by mass so no point in running off with it ;)

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  11. The game I've started playing is looking up UN numbers on semis during road-trips. Especially the liquid ones. Most are just gasoline, but there are a lot of specific chemicals too. And occasionally you drive by something and are like "whoa, that's a semi of liquid ammonia," or "I wonder which it is under 'corrosive liquid, acid, inorganic?'" or "holy cow, I hope semi full of hydrofluoric acid doesn't crash."

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    1. I freaked out my husband (who was driving) a little bit when I casually commented that I recognized the "corrosive liquid, acid, inorganic" number.

      Depending on where you live, liquid ammonia may be *incredibly* common on the road. Especially now that we're getting into corn-growing season!

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