Dry Ice From Seashells, The Hard (But Cheap) Way

[Hyperspace Pirate] wants to make his own dry ice, but he wants it to be really, really cheap. So naturally, his first stop is… the beach?

That’s right, the beach, because that’s where to find the buckets of free seashells that he turned into dry ice. Readers may recall previous efforts at DIY dry ice, which used baking soda and vinegar as a feedstock. We’d have thought those were pretty cheap materials for making carbon dioxide gas, but not cheap enough for [Hyperspace Pirate], as the dry ice he succeeded in making from them came out to almost ten bucks a pound. The low yield of the process probably had more to do with the high unit cost, in truth, so cheaper feedstocks and improved yield would attack the problem from both ends.

With a supply of zero-cost calcium carbonate from the beach and a homemade ZVS-powered induction heater tube furnace at the ready, [Hyperspace Pirate] was ready to make quicklime and capture the CO2 liberated in the process. That proved to be a little more difficult than planned since the reaction needed not just heat but a partial vacuum to drive the CO2 off. An oil-free vacuum pump helped, yielding a little CO2, but eventually he knuckled under and just doused the shells in vinegar. This had the fun side effect of creating calcium acetate, which when distilled not only corrodes the copper still plumbing but also makes a lousy but still flammable grade of acetone. Once enough CO2 was stored in a couple of beach balls, the process of cooling and condensing it into dry ice was pretty much the same as the previous method, except for taking advantage of the Joule-Thomson cryocooler he built a while back.

The result is a hundred or so grams of dry ice snow, which isn’t great but still shows promise. [Hyperspace Pirate] feels like the key to improving this process is more heat to really drive the calcination reaction. Might we suggest a DIY tube furnace for that job?

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Making Dry Ice At Home Is Just As Hard As It Sounds

Along the road to developing his own cryocooler to produce liquid nitrogen, there are a number of interesting rabbit holes [Hyperspace Pirate] has found himself taking a look at. For example, using dry ice for a pre-cooling stage and subsequently wondering what it’d take to make this dry ice oneself.

Getting the CO2 required for the dry ice is the easy part, requiring nothing more complicated than baking soda and a suitable acid (like hydrochloric acid). The other options to gather CO2 include using yeast, capturing the gas from the air people breathe out, calcium hydroxide, etc., none of which are as easy or convenient.

The acid is mixed with the baking soda, with the produced gas led through a bubbler and subsequent dehumidification stage before being collected. For the more involved part of getting dry ice, a bit more science is needed. First, a compressor is used to get pressurized CO2 into a previously evacuated tank at 160 psi (~12 bar). For the next phase the compressed gas has to be compressed further so that it condenses into a liquid. This involves a second compressor stage and a repurposed paintball tank. At the needed pressure of 1000 psi (69 bar), safety is essential.

With liquid carbon dioxide in the paintball tank, all it takes at this point is to turn the tank upside-down to get the liquid part near the exhaust valve and crank it open. Capturing the dry ice at this point is another fascinating challenge, which was partially solved by a 3D printed mold, with plenty of room for improvement still.

Given the cost and effort involved in producing it, just buying dry ice at the local store looks like it’s still the way to go for your Halloween fog machine this year. But it’s a fascinating experiment regardless, especially since it actually produced results — unlike some of the attempts we’ve covered previously.

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Fresh Food Year Round? You Can Thank Frederick McKinley Jones

When you’re a kid, one of the surest signs of summer is hearing the happy sound of the ice cream truck crawling through the neighborhood. You don’t worry about how that magical truck is keeping the ice cream cold, only that it rolls down your street, and that the stars align and your parents give you money for a giant ice cream-cookie sandwich with the edge rolled in tiny chocolate chips.

In the early days of mobile refrigeration, ice cream trucks and other food delivery vehicles relied first on ice, and then dry ice to keep perishables cold. Someone eventually invented an electric cooling system, but those had to be recharged periodically at power stations. There was also a short-lived mechanical system, but it was highly susceptible to road vibrations.

Until Frederick McKinley Jones came along, mobile refrigeration was fledgling, and sources of perishable food were extremely localized and limited. In the early 1940s, Frederick patented the first practical automated refrigeration system for trucks, and it revolutionized the shipping and storage of food and medicine.

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This Dry-Ice Powered Fog Machine Is Perfect For Halloween

The leaves are turning brown, and the spookier season is upon us. If you’re currently working up plans for a top-notch Halloween party, you would do well to consider building a fog machine like this unit from [DIY Machines]!

This fog machine is based around dry ice, so you’ll need to source that from an external supplier. The machine consists of a closed container filled with hot water, inside which is a movable bucket filled with dry ice. By lowering the dry ice into the water, fog is produced.

An Arduino is used to control the bucket, allowing the amount of fog produced to be controlled with a smartphone app. There are also controllable LEDs built in to give the fog a suitably eerie glow. The build relies on a series of 3D printed parts for the mechanism, and features several different nozzle designs for achieving different effects, such as a rising geyser or a thick low-lying fog.

The basic concepts are simple and it’s a build anyone could knock out in a weekend with a 3D printer and an Amazon account. It’s a great way to add to the ambience of Halloween, but of course, that’s not all fog can do. Video after the break.

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Wind Chimes And Dry Ice Make An Unusual Musical Instrument

When it comes to making music, there are really only a few ways to create the tones needed — pluck something, blow into something, or hit something. But where does that leave this dry-ice powered organ that recreates tunes with wind chimes and blocks of solid CO2?

It turns out this is firmly in the “hit something” camp, as [Leah Edwards] explains of her project. When the metal wind chime tubes come in contact with dry ice, the temperature difference sublimates the solid CO2. The puff of gas lifts the tube slightly, letting it fall back against the brick of dry ice and making a tone. The process is repeated rapidly, providing a vibrato effect while the tube is down. [Leah] used solenoids to lift the tubes and, having recently completed a stint at National Instruments, a bunch of NI gear to control them. The videos below show a few popular tunes and a little bit about the organ build. But what — no songs from Frozen?

We can easily imagine this same build using an Arduino or some other microcontroller. In fact, it puts us in mind of a recent reed organ MIDI project that has a few ideas to offer, like ways to quiet those solenoids.  Continue reading “Wind Chimes And Dry Ice Make An Unusual Musical Instrument”

Thermoelectric Dry Ice Generator Does Not Work (Yet)

[Pabr] is trying to make dry ice the hard way by building a thermoelectric dry ice generator. The project is a well planned round trip through thermodynamics and cryogenics with a hard landing on the icy grounds of trial and error.

[Pabr’s] four stage Peltier element on a heatsink.
While dry ice can be obtained with simpler methods, for example by venting gaseous CO2 from fire extinguishers and collecting the forming CO2 flakes, [pabr’s] method is indeed attractive as a more compact solid-state solution. The setup employs a four stage Peltier element, which uses four Peltier stages to achieve a high temperature differential.

With sufficient cooling on the high-temperature side of the element, it should be well capable of achieving temperatures below -78.5 °C, the sublimation temperature of CO2. So far, [pabr] has built three different setups to expose small amounts of CO2 to the cold of the Peltier element, hoping to observe the formation of little dry ice flakes.

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Nearspace Environmental Chamber


If you’re going to send some hardware up to 100,000 feet, where atmospheric pressure is 1% of what we enjoy on the surface and temperatures swing down to where Fahrenheit and Celsius don’t matter anymore, you might want to do a bit of testing to make sure everything works before launch. With a few bits of PVC, though, that’s a piece of cake.

There were several environmental conditions to take into consideration; the near vacuum experienced by high altitude balloons would be replicated by a refrigerator compressor, the increased solar flux is simulated by a light bulb, and the cold temperatures provided by a chunk of dry ice.

For a proper high altitude, low temperature environmental chamber the test payload should be cooled down via radiation with tubes filled with liquid nitrogen embedded in the walls. This is the NASA way of doing things, but for the budget of $200, [arko]’s chamber simulates a high altitude environment just fine.

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