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#1
Old 09-09-2013, 11:05 AM
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What's hard about making methylamine

#Possible breaking bad spoiler but not really#

One of the plot points in the show Breaking Bad involves the acquisition of the precursor methylamine. So given the lengths the characters go to to get their hands on methylamine its clearly something they can't make themselves.

From wikipedia

Quote:
Methylamine is prepared commercially by the reaction of ammonia with methanol in the presence of a silicoaluminate catalyst.
Both ammonia and methanol are substances you can easily buy by the gallon no questions asked. I don't know how easy it would be to get a silicoaluminate catalyst, but since its just used as a catalyst it may be recoverable and reused. So materials are probably not the issue.

So what about the reaction prevents our favorite super-chemist turned drug dealer from whipping some up in his garage?
#2
Old 09-09-2013, 11:17 AM
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An article on Slate
#3
Old 09-09-2013, 11:19 AM
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This article explains pretty much all the chemistry things about Walter White's blue meth. It's a great article, and the chemistry involved doesn't get too complicated. As for your specific question...

Quote:
How about the methylamine? A chemist of Walterís talents could easily make methylamine from other readily available reagents, but instead he and Jesse decide to steal a barrel from a warehouse. Iím assuming the scriptwriters opted for theft just to add some more drama, because thereís no reason why Walter would take that kind of unnecessary risk.
#4
Old 09-09-2013, 11:56 AM
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So the answer to my question seems to be "nothing".

I guess I need to remember never to try to learn science from Hollywood, even from such a science based show as Braking Bad.

Now all that stands in my way of being drug kingpin extraordinaire is my strong aversion to having guns pointed at me.
#5
Old 09-09-2013, 12:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Buck Godot View Post
So the answer to my question seems to be "nothing".
Well, here's at least one article that disagrees, for what it's worth, arguing that it wouldn't be practical for Walt to synthesize it himself:

Quote:
Now let's talk practicality: which company will sell you a cylinder of ammonia gas for 'home use?' (Not Home Depot). How will you get your methanol? What's the plan to isolate the (volatile, stinky) methylamine from the complex mixture of compounds this theoretical reaction produces?

Well, how do companies make methylamine? Albemarle technical documents to the rescue! Seems that mixing methanol and excess ammonia at 300-500 degrees Celsius, under pressure, over a zeolite catalyst will produce an equilibrium mixture of methylamine, dimethylamine, and trimethylamine (favored). After fractional distillation, the trimethylamine can be streamed over an amorphous silica / alumina catalyst to disproportionate it back into methylamine.

Not a kitchen sink in sight.
#6
Old 09-09-2013, 01:00 PM
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If Walter could make chemically exceptional meth, he could synthesize his own methylamine from much cheaper and legally available components. Any industrial chemist can get pure methanol by the truckload and without a single raised eyebrow.

It's a plot gimmick, plain and simple.
#7
Old 09-09-2013, 01:59 PM
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I think I read somewhere that making the methylamine would take a long time/take up a lot of floor space and would significantly slow the production process. Considering Walk thought he was going to die at any moment and they were cooking out of the back of an RV, I don't think it's a plot hole.
#8
Old 09-09-2013, 02:50 PM
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Uncle Fester provides complete instructions for manufacturing methylamine in Chapter 13 of his classic tome on meth making. It can be done, but itís a colossal pain in the ass. The process involves distilling down several liters of a mixture of formaldehyde and ammonium chloride, constantly decanting the distillate and filtering and refiltering the precipitate, and then separating methylamine HCl from the precipitate by an equally tedious filtration process. The whole thing has to be cooled down before every step. The best way to do it would be to set up a corner of your Laundromat dedicated to this process, and paying local tweekers in product to do it for you.

(Festerís) cite:

Journal of the American Chemical Society, Volume 40. Page 1411 (1918).
#9
Old 09-09-2013, 03:31 PM
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Hereóbest $35 youíve ever spent, and you wonít have to lock that poor rent-a-cop in the Porta Potty or steal Etch A Sketch pads from neighborhood preschoolers.
#10
Old 09-09-2013, 04:45 PM
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Fuggin' board won't quote again... As for Uncle Fester and similar home cooking schools, is he presenting the way a master chemist in a well-equipped lab would do it, or the way Joe Biker has to do it while moving from garage to garage?
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