Acid-Base Reactions

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This figure shows two flasks, labeled a and b. The flasks are both sealed with stoppers and are nearly three-quarters full of a liquid. Flask a is labeled H C l followed by g in parentheses. In the liquid there are approximately twenty space-filling molecular models composed of one red sphere and two smaller attached white spheres. The label H subscript 2 O followed by a q in parentheses is connected with a line to one of these models. In the space above the liquid in the flask, four space filling molecular models composed of one larger green sphere to which a smaller white sphere is bonded are shown. To one of these models, the label H C l followed by g in parentheses is attached with a line segment. An arrow is drawn from the space above the liquid pointing down into the liquid below. Flask b is labeled H subscript 3 O superscript positive sign followed by a q in parentheses. This is followed by a plus sign and C l superscript negative sign which is also followed by a q in parentheses. In this flask, no molecules are shown in the open space above the liquid. A label, C l superscript negative sign followed by a q in parentheses, is connected with a line segment to a green sphere. This sphere is surrounded by four molecules composed each of one red sphere and two white smaller spheres. A few of these same molecules appear separate from the green spheres in the liquid. A line segment connects one of them to the label H subscript 2 O which is followed by l in parentheses. There are a few molecules formed from one central larger red sphere to which three smaller white spheres are bonded. A line segment is drawn from one of these to the label H subscript 3 O superscript positive sign, followed by a q in parentheses.
Figure 1. When hydrogen chloride gas dissolves in water, (a) it reacts as an acid, transferring protons to water molecules to yield (b) hydronium ions (and solvated chloride ions). Source: OpenStax Chemistry 2e

Acid-Base Reactions (OpenStax Chemistry 2e)

An acid-base reaction is one in which a hydrogen ion, H+, is transferred from one chemical species to another. Such reactions are of central importance to numerous natural and technological processes, ranging from the chemical transformations that take place within cells and the lakes and oceans, to the industrial-scale production of fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, and other substances essential to society.

For purposes of this brief introduction, we will consider only the more common types of acid-base reactions that take place in aqueous solutions. In this context, an acid is a substance that will dissolve in water to yield hydronium ions, H3O+. As an example, consider the equation shown here:

The process represented by this equation confirms that hydrogen chloride is an acid. When dissolved in water, H3O+ ions are produced by a chemical reaction in which H+ ions are transferred from HCl molecules to H2O molecules.

The nature of HCl is such that its reaction with water as just described is essentially 100% efficient: Virtually every HCl molecule that dissolves in water will undergo this reaction. Acids that completely react in this fashion are called strong acids, and HCl is one among just a handful of common acid compounds that are classified as strong (Table 1). A far greater number of compounds behave as weak acids and only partially react with water, leaving a large majority of dissolved molecules in their original form and generating a relatively small amount of hydronium ions. Weak acids are commonly encountered in nature, being the substances partly responsible for the tangy taste of citrus fruits, the stinging sensation of insect bites, and the unpleasant smells associated with body odor. A familiar example of a weak acid is acetic acid, the main ingredient in food vinegars:

When dissolved in water under typical conditions, only about 1% of acetic acid molecules are present in the ionized form, CH3CO2−CH3CO2− (Figure 2). (The use of a double-arrow in the equation above denotes the partial reaction aspect of this process, a concept addressed fully in the chapters on chemical equilibrium.)

This figure contains two images, each with an associated structural formula provided in the lower left corner of the image. The first image is a photograph of a variety of thinly sliced, circular cross sections of citrus fruits ranging in color for green to yellow, to orange and reddish-orange. The slices are closely packed on a white background. The structural formula with this picture shows a central chain of five C atoms. The leftmost C atom has an O atom double bonded above and to the left and a singly bonded O atom below and to the left. This single bonded O atom has an H atom indicated in red on its left side which is highlighted in pink. The second C atom moving to the right has H atoms bonded above and below. The third C atom has a single bonded O atom above which has an H atom on its right. This third C atom has a C atom bonded below it which has an O atom double bonded below and to the left and a singly bonded O atom below and to the right. An H atom appears in red and is highlighted in pink to the right of the singly bonded O atom. The fourth C atom has H atoms bonded above and below. The fifth C atom is at the right end of the structure. It has an O atom double bonded above and to the right and a singly bonded O atom below and to the right. This single bonded O atom has a red H atom on its right side which is highlighted in pink. The second image is a photograph of bottles of vinegar. The bottles are labeled, “Balsamic Vinegar,” and appear to be clear and colorless. The liquid in this bottle appears to be brown. The structural formula that appears with this image shows a chain of two C atoms. The leftmost C atom has H atoms bonded above, below, and to the left. The C atom on the right has a doubly bonded O atom above and to the right and a singly bonded O atom below and to the right. This O atom has an H atom bonded to its right which is highlighted in pink.
Figure 2 (a) Fruits such as oranges, lemons, and grapefruit contain the weak acid citric acid. (b) Vinegars contain the weak acid acetic acid. (credit a: modification of work by Scott Bauer; credit b: modification of work by Brücke-Osteuropa/Wikimedia Commons)

A base is a substance that will dissolve in water to yield hydroxide ions, OH. The most common bases are ionic compounds composed of alkali or alkaline earth metal cations (groups 1 and 2) combined with the hydroxide ion—for example, NaOH and Ca(OH)2. Unlike the acid compounds discussed previously, these compounds do not react chemically with water; instead they dissolve and dissociate, releasing hydroxide ions directly into the solution. For example, KOH and Ba(OH)2 dissolve in water and dissociate completely to produce cations (K+ and Ba2+, respectively) and hydroxide ions, OH. These bases, along with other hydroxides that completely dissociate in water, are considered strong bases.

Consider as an example the dissolution of lye (sodium hydroxide) in water:

This equation confirms that sodium hydroxide is a base. When dissolved in water, NaOH dissociates to yield Na+ and OH ions. This is also true for any other ionic compound containing hydroxide ions. Since the dissociation process is essentially complete when ionic compounds dissolve in water under typical conditions, NaOH and other ionic hydroxides are all classified as strong bases.

Unlike ionic hydroxides, some compounds produce hydroxide ions when dissolved by chemically reacting with water molecules. In all cases, these compounds react only partially and so are classified as weak bases. These types of compounds are also abundant in nature and important commodities in various technologies. For example, global production of the weak base ammonia is typically well over 100 metric tons annually, being widely used as an agricultural fertilizer, a raw material for chemical synthesis of other compounds, and an active ingredient in household cleaners (Figure 3). When dissolved in water, ammonia reacts partially to yield hydroxide ions, as shown here:

This is, by definition, an acid-base reaction, in this case involving the transfer of H+ ions from water molecules to ammonia molecules. Under typical conditions, only about 1% of the dissolved ammonia is present as NH4+ ions.

This photograph shows a large agricultural tractor in a field pulling a field sprayer and a large, white cylindrical tank which is labeled “Caution Ammonia.”
Figure 3 Ammonia is a weak base used in a variety of applications. (a) Pure ammonia is commonly applied as an agricultural fertilizer. (b) Dilute solutions of ammonia are effective household cleansers. (credit a: modification of work by National Resources Conservation Service; credit b: modification of work by pat00139)

A neutralization reaction is a specific type of acid-base reaction in which the reactants are an acid and a base (but not water), and the products are often a salt and water

To illustrate a neutralization reaction, consider what happens when a typical antacid such as milk of magnesia (an aqueous suspension of solid Mg(OH)2) is ingested to ease symptoms associated with excess stomach acid (HCl):

Note that in addition to water, this reaction produces a salt, magnesium chloride.

Related Research: Research Article: The Final Frontier of pH and the Undiscovered Country Beyond

Source:

Flowers, P., Theopold, K., Langley, R., & Robinson, W. R. (2019, February 14). Chemistry 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/books/chemistry-2e

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