How to Obtain Red Phosphorus

Written by damien thryn
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How to Obtain Red Phosphorus
The strike face of matches contains red phosphorus. (phosphorus matches image by JCVStock from Fotolia.com)

Red phosphorous is an allotrope of elemental phosphorous and has many uses. Highly flammable, it is a component of both matches and pyrotechnics, and it has military applications in the form of tracer rounds and incendiary munitions. Red phosphorus has gained the attention of law enforcement due to its function in producing illegal methamphetamine. It is obtained from white phosphorus by heating the latter substance to a temperature of 250 degrees C, according to a 2005 lecture by Professor Yihui Yang at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, that is published on the Internet. White phosphorus is highly toxic, and the production of red phosphorus is a delicate operation best left to professionals.

Skill level:
Easy

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Things you need

  • Airtight container with airlock
  • Vacuum pump
  • Immersed white phosphorus
  • Heating mechanism

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Remove all air from an airtight container using a vacuum pump.

  2. 2

    Transfer immersed white phosphorus into the airlock. When you do this, ensure that all air is forced out of the airlock to avoid an explosion.

    How to Obtain Red Phosphorus
    White phosphorus explodes if it comes into contact with air. (explosive image by Alex White from Fotolia.com)
  3. 3

    Move the immersed white phosphorus from the airlock into the airtight container. Do this without breaking the external airlock seal.

  4. 4

    Heat the airtight container to at least 250 degrees C. The white phosphorus will slowly change into red phosphorus. When the entire sample of phosphorus turns from a white colour to a deep red, the process is complete.

Tips and warnings

  • Red phosphorus is stable in air, and can be transported safely without immersion in water. The California Environmental Protection Agency indicates, however, that the substance is still toxic and should be handled carefully.
  • Either a heating element or focused sunlight can be used to heat the airtight container to the necessary temperature.
  • White phosphorus is extremely reactive and spontaneously combustive in air. It must be continuously immersed in water. Take extreme care to ensure white phosphorus never comes into contact with air.
  • White phosphorus is extremely toxic. If exposed, seek medical attention immediately.
  • Due to the danger of using white phosphorus, the production of red phosphorus should occur only under controlled circumstances by experts in handling phosphorus.
  • Law enforcement agencies in many regions keep a close watch on red phosphorus because of its use in making methamphetamine. Contact law enforcement for information on laws and ordinances regarding the transport or use of phosphorus compounds.

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