Jun 05, 2023

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.