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More recent science (as compared to 1975), the action of Al with NaOH is believed to produce surface absorbed hydrogen atoms on the aluminum. Related chemistry is commonly employed via the vigorous action of HCl on Zn (so one of the roles of zinc is to provide added surface area, which may be acted upon by NaOH also, to answer a posited question). More ...


Virtually every analytical chemistry textbook's chapter on anion determination mentions that Devarda's alloy is very brittle and can be easily pulverized in a mortar, unlike $\ce{Al}$ and $\ce{Zn}$ metals. This is quite handy property as for qualitative analysis of nitrates in a heterogeneous media the reducing phase should be ground to fine powder in order ...

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