This experiment is for advanced students.

Don’t put this in your car….yet. Hydrogen generation, capture, and combustion are big deals right now. The next phase of transportation, and a move away from fossil fuels in not found in electric cars. Electric cars are waiting until hydrogen fuel cell vehicles become practical. It can be done and is being done.

Cars being powered by hydrogen are here, but not on the market yet. Engineers and chemists are always finding new ways to improve the chemical reaction that produces hydrogen and making the vehicles more efficiently use the fuel. Hydrogen fuel is not just easy to make, it is inexpensive, and the “exhaust” is water.

We will generate hydrogen in this lab. We will also see how combustible it is. Just let your imagination wander….just a bit and you will see noiseless cars and trucks zipping along the streets and interstates, carrying people and cargo. The Indianapolis 500 wouldn’t be quite the same, though. “And there they go, roaring, I mean quietly entering turn two…”

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  • Goggles
  • Gloves
  • Measuring syringe
  • Water
  • Test tube rack
  • One-hole rubber stopper
  • Alcohol burner
  • Lighter
  • Test tube
  • Test tube holder
  • Water bath
  • Chemistry stand
  • Rubber tubing
  • 90 degree bend glass tubing
  • Zn powder (MSDS)
  • Copper sulfate CuSo4 (MSDS)
  • Sodium hydrogen sulfate NaHSO4 (MSDS) Sodium hydrogen sulfate is very toxic. Respect it, handle it carefully and responsibly. Do not take it for granted.

NOTE: Be very careful when handling the sodium hydrogen sulfate – it’s highly corrosive and dangerous when wet. Handle this chemical only with gloves, and be sure to read over the MSDS before using.

We will combine sodium hydrogen sulfate, water, and zinc. As soon as they are all together in our test tube, bubbles will begin forming in the solution. The bubbles will continue coming off, but we can speed up the reaction by adding a little copper sulfate. Now, instead of leisurely coming off, the gas is being given off quickly and we must act quickly ourselves to capture as much of the gas as possible. We can aid the gas movement ourselves by swirling the solution gently.

C3000: Experiment


Download Student Worksheet & Exercises

Here’s what’s going on in this experiment:

NaHSO4 + H2O + Zn + CuSO4 –> H2 + NaSO4 + CuHSO4 + ZnO

Sodium hydrogen sulfate is added to water and dissolved completely. Zinc is added and hydrogen gas is generated by the chemical reaction. Copper sulfate is added as a catalyst to speed up the generation of hydrogen.

Double replacement occurs where the compounds are broken apart and the pieces realign and re-bond with different parts of the original molecules, and zinc oxide is left as a byproduct of the oxidation of the zinc powder. Hydrogen gas is freed in the reaction.

Cleanup: We are going to clean everything thoroughly after we finish the lab. After cleaning with soap and water, rinse thoroughly. Chemists use the rule of “three” in cleaning glassware and tools. After washing, chemists rinse out all visible soap and then rinse three times more.

Storage: Place cleaned tools and glassware in their respective storage places.

Disposal: Liquids must be neutralized before they can be washed down the drain. Solids are thrown in the outside trash.


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