Updated: Jan 14
Zinc is a common metallic element, used to galvanize nails and found in many alloys and foods. However, it’s not easy to get zinc from most of these sources and you may have trouble finding a store that sells it. Fortunately, it’s easy to obtain zinc metal from common products. All it takes is a bit of chemistry know-how. Here are two simple methods to try.
Where to Find Zinc in a Penny
Although pennies look like copper, they are really made with a thin copper shell that is filled with zinc. It’s easy to separate the two metals because they have different melting points. Zinc melts at a lower temperature than copper. When you heat a penny, the zinc runs out and can be collected, leaving you with a hollow penny.
To get zinc from a penny, you need:
United States pennies (minted in 1982 for the right chemical composition)
a gas stove or torch
a heat-proof container to collect the zinc
Turn on the stove or torch so it will be hot enough to melt the zinc.
Hold a penny with pliers and place it in the tip of the flame. This is the hottest part of a flame. If the metal is not melting, make sure it’s in the right part of the flame.
You’ll feel the penny start to soften. Hold it over the container and gently squeeze the penny to release the zinc. Be careful with this process, as the molten metal is very hot! You’ll end up with zinc in your container and a hollow copper penny in your pliers.
Repeat the process with more pennies until you have as much zinc as you need. Allow the metal to cool before handling it.
An alternative to using pennies is to heat galvanized nails. To do this, heat the nails until the zinc runs off of them into your container.
Use a Zinc-Carbon Lantern Battery
Batteries are useful sources of several chemicals, but some types contain acids or hazardous chemicals, so you shouldn’t cut into a battery unless you know exactly what kind it is.
To get zinc from a battery, you need:
a zinc-carbon battery
gloves to protect your hands from sharp edges
Basically, you’re going to break open the battery and dismantle it. Start by prying the rim or top off the battery.
Once the top is removed, you’ll see four smaller batteries inside the container that are connected to each other by wires. Cut the wires to disconnect the batteries from each other.
Next, you’ll disassemble each battery. Inside each battery is a rod, which is made of carbon. If you want carbon, you can save this part for other projects.
After the rod is removed, you’ll see a black powder. This is a mixture of manganese dioxide and carbon. You can discard it or place it in a labeled plastic bag to use for other science experiments. The powder will not dissolve in water, so it won’t do you any good to rinse the battery. Wipe out the powder to reveal the zinc metal. You may need to cut open the battery to completely remove the powder. Zinc is stable in air, so once you have it, you can put it in any container to store it.
The chemicals in this project are not particularly hazardous, but either method of obtaining zinc should be performed by an adult. Melting pennies presents a burn hazard if you’re not careful. Getting zinc from batteries involves sharp tools and edges. Otherwise, this metal is one of the safest chemicals to obtain. Pure zinc metal does not present a health hazard.
If all else fails, you could always buy zinc metal online. It’s available as a metal ingot or as a metal powder from sellers.