Film ID:
NEFA 8488



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This is a Billingham Film Unit production for ICI General Chemicals Division, filmed at the Billingham Cassel Works, with titles and  commentary by Frank Phillips. The film documents the process for extracting sodium from sodium hydroxide, a process originally  devised by Hamilton Young Castner (1858-98), as mentioned in the commentary.

Title: ICI General Chemicals Division Presents

Title:The Castner Sodium Process
Copyright MCMLII
Production No. 195225

Title: Produced at the Cassel Works of the General Chemicals Division by the Billingham Film Unit

Title: Commentary spoken by Frank Phillips
Sound recording by United Motion Pictures

Title: In 1890, Hamilton Young Castner devised a cell for making metallic sodium by the electrolysis of fused caustic soda. The process was first operated, on a commercial scale, at Oldbury, near Birmingham, later at Weston Point in Lancashire and Wallsend-on-Tyne, and finally at Billingham, Co. Durham.

Title: At the Cassel Works of the General Chemicals Division, situated at Billingham, the production of sodium by Castner’s process was begun in April, 1930. The Billingham plant, larger than any of its predecessors, was for some years the only plant making sodium in the whole country, and med who had worked at Oldbury, Weston Point and Wallsend assisted in the start-up.

Title: The process used at Billingham was fundamentally the same as Castner’s original plant at Oldbury. The Castner cell – enlarged and elaborated over the years – was used to make sodium until late in 1952 when the plant was finally shut-down having been rendered obsolete by the development of a new process.

Title: The Castner Sodium Process as operated at the Cassel Works from 1930-1952

Working in full-body protective suits, two engineers tend a row of furnaces. Flames and explosions surround them. A close-up of one of the engineers reveals the extent of the protective clothing he wears: thick safety goggles and a face mask.

The commentary describes a graphic tour of the process. The electrolyte pots, the copper conductors, the copper cathodes, jig.

One of the workers pours molten electrolyte into a pot. The nickel anode, insulated by asbestos, is lowered into position. An electrically driven truck delivers a tank of electrolyte. Black liquid flows into the pot. One of the engineers stirs the fiery mixture.

Close-up of a dredger mechanism as designed at the Castner works in Wallsend. Close-up of the metal linked chain operating. Molten sodium drips into a mould. The full moulds are transported away on a rail bogey and then laid to cool on casting tables.15lb solid blocks of sodium are knocked out of the moulds. An engineer tops up one of the pots with some extra electrolyte or molten caustic soda.

Remaining sodium is bailed out by hand. One of the engineers spoons out the substance with a metal ladle. The process having finished, the pot is hoisted out of the brick frame and titled with a crane to remove any remaining liquid. The pot is washed in hot water.

Title: A Billingham Film
Title: The End