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First Attempt to Distill Phosphorus

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For anyone actually interested in this... a few quick web searches will reveal a number of various ways one could potentially go about distilling urine in order to obtain elemental phosphorus. Highlighted here is one such method which is floating around the Internet.

To summarize, the recipe is to allow an amount of urine to stand for seven days. At the end of the week, add an amount of carbon and cinnamon, mix it together, and distill completely at high heat. Capture the distillate in water, and, according to this recipe, a phosphorus precipitate will form.

Here are a few web pages where this recipe is given:

I'll tell you ahead of time that my results were negative. After a period of three to four days after I completed this process, a few small white particles were observed to have formed at the bottom of the flask which held the distillate-containing water. I believe this to be a salt, perhaps even a phosphate, but certainly not elemental phosphorus. If it is a phosphate salt, then this experiment was not entirely useless.

Consider this recipe for elemental phosphorus to be debunked. Nevertheless, I will outline the procedure for posterity, and for review so that I might consider and improve for my next (future) attempt to distill elemental phosphorus.

Here is the mixture of week-old urine, carbon powder, and cinnamon:

The assembled retort, with water trap:

The retort in the fire:

The water trap at the start of the distillation:

The water trap near the end of the distillation. Notice the color change. This was approximately six hours after beginning:

The collected water-containing distillate:

What was left in the boiling flask after it was allowed to cool:

For the past nine days, I have been watching the flask that holds the water-containing distillate. The white particles which formed three to four days after it was collected are still white, even after being exposed to sunlight for many hours at a time on various occasions. Elemental phosphorus eventually turns a darker color over time, and when exposed to sunlight. This is doing no such thing. I have also taken the flask into the dark, and alas,... no magical glow.

So why in the world are these people circulating this method? Well, I'll let you answer that for yourself. =)

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  1. Salazius's Avatar
    Salazius -
    Very intersting, thank you for sharing. And also, nice glassware
  2. Eshai's Avatar
    Eshai -
    Thanks. The boiling flask is 3000 mL, and the glass piping and trap are the salvaged remnants of 1 1/2" drain piping from 40 year-old renovated laboratories. Laboratory plumbing now-a-days is done using resistant PVC.
  3. MarkostheGnostic's Avatar
    MarkostheGnostic -
    It is no wonder that the chemical notation for Phosphorus is 'P'
    I've enjoyed these: