Sodium cyanide is produced by treating hydrogen cyanide with sodium hydroxide:
HCN + NaOH → NaCN + H2O
Worldwide production was estimated at 500,000 tons in the year 2006. Formerly it was prepared by the Castner-Kellner process involving the reaction of sodium amide with carbon at elevated temperatures.
NaNH2 + C → NaCN + H2
The structure of solid NaCN is related to that of sodium chloride. The anions and cations are each six-coordinate. Potassium cyanide (KCN) adopts a similar structure. Each Na+ forms pi-bonds to two CN− groups as well as two «bent» Na—CN and two «bent» Na—NC links.
Because the salt is derived from a weak acid, sodium cyanide readily reverts to HCN by hydrolysis: the moist solid emits small amounts of hydrogen cyanide, which smells like bitter almonds (not everyone can smell it—the ability thereof is due to a genetic trait). Sodium cyanide reacts rapidly with strong acids to release hydrogen cyanide. This dangerous process represents a significant risk associated with cyanide salts. It is detoxified most efficiently with hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) to produce sodium cyanate (NaOCN) and water:
NaCN + H2O2 → NaOCN + H2O
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