How to produce Oxygen at Home

The procedure described below realises the continuous production of oxygen gas in a home environment.


I have tested and proved a basic technique for producing small amounts of oxygen gas reliably and simply. Gas can be stored and used from a relatively low-pressure bladder, as needed.

I have no medical training - so am not qualified to advise on any health-related applications for the procedure described.


The technique employed, electrolysis, involves splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using an electric current. It is not an efficient method - but the equipment needed can generally be found in a domestic environment.

A zinc-plated bucket is the electrical cathode and copper piping serves as an anode. (If other inert metals, other than copper, are available, e.g. platinum!, they may be suitable for the anode - refer to the periodic table). Oxygen gas produced at the anode is collected by an inverted funnel (or neck of a bottle) hydrogen, produced at the cathode as a by-product, needs to be vented to the atmosphere and safely dispersed.

The addition of a small amount of a suitable impurity to the water helps facilitate the process (adding free ions) because pure water is not a good conductor of electricity.

The rate that oxygen can be produced will depend mainly on the magnitude of the electric current flowing between the electrodes, which, in-turn will depend on:

  • the voltage of the direct current (D.C) power source;

  • the surface area (and composition) of the electrodes - mainly the immersed anode;

  • the conductivity of the electrolyte (water predominantly - affected slightly by it's temperature).

Theoretically, one kilogram of water (a litre) splits into 620 litres of oxygen and 1240 litres of hydrogen. A human consumes about 550 litres of pure oxygen in 24 hours.

The oxygen content of normal air is c. 21%.


This proof-of-concept `Lash-up´ shows the wiring for the electrodes. (The jaws of the clamp are insulated!)

In reality, this fairly basic configuration would need to be up-rated if it were to produce a useful amount of gas rapidly. e.g. an anode with a greater surface area - possibly by forming a rather longer, thinner pipe into a compact coil. Also, the voltage of the power source here (13V) could be increased (12-cell, [24V nominal] lead-acid battery chargers [which often produce close to 28V peak] should be suitable. A D.C. laboratory power supply, like the one shown above, which is smoothed and regulated, is an unnecessary luxury)… and appropriate (higher current) connection-wire used.


Precautions

Metals, liquid electrolytes, electricity and humans, when combined, do not make congenial bedfellows. Particular care needs to be exercised with direct current and relatively high voltage, direct current - which, to be prudent, would be anything exceeding 50V. Consider wearing rubber/latex gloves for protection and insulation.

Electric currents flowing through conductors (including electrolytes) will cause heat to be generated within them - roughly proportional to the square of the current.

Dangerous substances, hazardous to humans, can be produced by electrolysis inadvertently.

Hydrogen gas is inflammable… and when combined with oxygen in the right proportion, is explosive - but, being lighter than air, will float upwards, and, if allowed, dissipate in moving, free air.

Oxygen gas (slightly heavier than air - so it will collect at ground-level) will accelerate combustion processes.



What you'll need:

  • a galvanized steel bucket - 10 litre capacity… or more,

  • copper piping (or sheeting - possibly formed into a spiral),

  • multi-strand connection wire - say, 13 Amps (A) maximum rating,

  • a source of direct electric current (D.C.) - say, 30V maximum, at a current rating of up to 13 A,

  • tap water - if treated for human consumption, would ideally be dechlorinated first (by say, vigorous shaking or letting it stand overnight),

  • bicarbonate of soda… (or sodium hydroxide or dilute sulphuric acid),

  • an empty, 2 litre plastic (drinks) bottle,


Using two lengths of connection wire:

  • Connect the negative from the power source to the galvanized (zinc-plated) bucket (making it the cathode).

  • Connect the positive from the power source to the copper (making it the anode).


Then:

  1. Half-fill the bucket with tap water.

  2. Add about a teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda (to improve the conductivity of the water - so increasing the volume of gas liberated).

  3. Apply electric power to the electrodes.

  4. Slowly immerse the copper piping into the water - preferably monitoring the current drawn. The surface area of the immersed copper will be one factor determining the overall current drawn - therefore the amount of oxygen released. The current drawn should be kept below the maximum rating of the power supply. Ensure that, when power is applied, there's no possibility of the anode contacting the metalwork of the bucket - as the resulting `short circuit´ may overload the power source, possibly damaging it or alternatively damaging the connection wiring… or even causing sparking which could ignite combustible gases.

  5. If correctly configured, bubbles of oxygen will be produced on the anode. (A layer of bubbles adhering to the anode [both outside and inside piping] will reduce the efficacy of gas production [indicated by declining current consumption]).

    Gas bubbles can be collected with an inverted, plastic funnel - or the upper-half of a plastic drinks bottle - placed over the anode:

    • cut the bottom off the bottle;

    • remove any cap so that the copper pipe can be inserted downwards through the neck of the bottle. The bottle should cover the top of the piping to act as a ˋfunnelˊ collecting gas as it bubbles off the anode.

    • immerse the copper pipe, with its surrounding plastic bottle, into the water - the mouth (neck) of the bottle should be positioned just above the surface of the water;

    • there should be a gap of at least a centimetre between the base of the bottle/funnel and the bottom of the bucket.


A rather handy indicator of the pressure of liberated oxygen (over ambient air-pressure) is provided by the difference in height of water inside the funnel compared with the height of water outside it - so, up to about ten centimetres of water - relatively low.

It may be useful to include a `collection´/storage bladder/reservoir, say, a large plastic bag. This should seal to the mouth of the bottle/funnel - and then gas extracted from the bladder. (One end of a canular could be inserted into the bag - and oxygen drawn from the other end.)

Water will be consumed as it´s broken-down into gases, so, for oxygen to be produced continuously, it'll need to be regularly topped-up.


As a refinement, the central area of the base of the bucket could be covered/coated to prevent - or divert - hydrogen bubbles forming on it and contaminating the harvested oxygen.