The Catalysis


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A graph is shown with the label, “Extent of reaction,” appearing in a right pointing arrow below the x-axis and the label, “Energy,” in an upward pointing arrow just left of the y-axis. Approximately one-fifth of the way up the y-axis, a very short, somewhat flattened portion of both a red and a blue curve are shown. This region is labeled “Reactants.” A red concave down curve extends upward to reach a maximum near the height of the y-axis. From the peak, the curve continues downward to a second horizontally flattened region at a height of about one-third the height of the y-axis. This flattened region is labeled, “Products.” A second curve is drawn in blue with the same flattened regions at the start and end of the curve. The height of this curve is about two-thirds the height of the first curve and just right of its maximum, the curve dips low, then rises back and continues a downward trend at a lower height, but similar to that of the red curve. A horizontal dashed straight line extends from the point where both curves start in the “Reactants” region. A double sided arrow extends from the “Products” region at the end of both curves to this horizontal dashed line. This is labeled “capital delta H.” A double sided arrow extends from the dashed horizontal line to the peak of the red concave down curve. This arrow is labeled “E subscript a.” Another double sided arrow extends from the dashed horizontal line to the peak of the blue curve. This arrow is labeled “E subscript a.”
Figure 1. Reaction diagrams for an endothermic process in the absence (red curve) and presence (blue curve) of a catalyst. The catalyzed pathway involves a two-step mechanism (note the presence of two transition states) and an intermediate species (represented by the valley between the two transitions states). Source: OpenStax Chemistry 2e

The Catalysis (OpenStax Chemistry 2e)

Among the factors affecting chemical reaction rates discussed earlier in this chapter was the presence of a catalyst, a substance that can increase the reaction rate without being consumed in the reaction. The concepts introduced in the previous section on reaction mechanisms provide the basis for understanding how catalysts are able to accomplish this very important function.

Figure 1 shows reaction diagrams for a chemical process in the absence and presence of a catalyst. Inspection of the diagrams reveals several traits of these reactions. Consistent with the fact that the two diagrams represent the same overall reaction, both curves begin and end at the same energies (in this case, because products are more energetic than reactants, the reaction is endothermic). The reaction mechanisms, however, are clearly different. The uncatalyzed reaction proceeds via a one-step mechanism (one transition state observed), whereas the catalyzed reaction follows a two-step mechanism (two transition states observed) with a notably lesser activation energy. This difference illustrates the means by which a catalyst functions to accelerate reactions, namely, by providing an alternative reaction mechanism with a lower activation energy. Although the catalyzed reaction mechanism for a reaction needn’t necessarily involve a different number of steps than the uncatalyzed mechanism, it must provide a reaction path whose rate determining step is faster (lower Ea).


Flowers, P., Theopold, K., Langley, R., & Robinson, W. R. (2019, February 14). Chemistry 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at:


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