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Q & A: dry ice sublimation

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Most recent answer: 10/22/2007
Q:
If dry ice is enclosed in a plastic container and sealed, can sublimation occur? If so what effect would this have on the plastic container? And lastly what effect would this have if the container is placed in the freezer or heated?
- Jay
California, USA
A:
Sublimation (evaporation from the solid) definitely can occur. The effect is to increase the amount of gas and hence the pressure in the container. The container will swell and then either leak or explode. My kids alarmed and irritated our neighbors this way.
The whole process would happen faster in a hot environment, and slower in the freezer. Actually, the last part of the process (bugging the neighbors) might not happen at all if the container were in the freezer, because that would muffle the sound.

Mike W.

If your container is really strong, the carbon dioxide will liquify at room temperature at a pressure of about 60 bar (roughly 60 atmospheres).  Probably a plastic container won’t be strong enough.  I was a little surprised last week to be stuck behind a truck prominently proclaiming it was carrying liquid carbon dioxide in it.  It turns out this liquid has a number of uses, such as filling CO2 fire extinguishers and removing caffeine from coffee.  Check it out at Wikipedia.org.

Tom

(published on 10/22/2007)

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