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nitric acid

nitric acid, chemical compound, HNO3, colorless, highly corrosive, poisonous liquid that gives off choking red or yellow fumes in moist air. It is miscible with water in all proportions. It forms an azeotrope (constant-boiling mixture) that has the composition 68% nitric acid and 32% water and that boils at 120.5°C. The nitric acid of commerce is typically a solution of 52% to 68% nitric acid in water. Solutions containing over 86% nitric acid are commonly called fuming nitric acid. White fuming nitric acid (WFNA) is similar to the anhydrous variety, and red fuming nitric acid (RFNA) has a reddish brown color from dissolved nitrogen oxides. When treated with hydrogen fluoride, both varieties form inhibited fuming nitric acid, which has increased corrosion resistance in metal tanks, e.g., when used as an oxidizer in liquid fuel rockets.

Nitric acid is a strong oxidizing agent. It ionizes readily in solution, forming a good conductor of electricity. It reacts with metals, oxides, and hydroxides, forming nitrate salts. Chief uses of nitric acid are in the preparation of fertilizers, e.g., ammonium nitrate, and explosives, e.g., nitroglycerin and trinitrotoluene (TNT). It is also used in the manufacture of chemicals, e.g., in making dyes, and in metallurgy, ore flotation, etching steel, photoengraving, and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. It is produced chiefly by oxidation of ammonia (the Ostwald process). Small amounts are produced by the treatment of sodium nitrate with sulfuric acid. Nitric acid was known to the alchemists as aqua fortis; the name is used in commerce for impure grades of it. Aqua regia is a mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acids. Niric acid is a component of acid rain.

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nitric acid

nitric acid (ny-trik) n. a strong corrosive mineral acid, the concentrated form of which is capable of producing severe burns of the skin. Swallowing the acid leads to intense burning pain and ulceration of the mouth and throat. Treatment is by immediate administration of alkaline solutions. Formula: HNO3.

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nitric acid

nitric acid (HNO3) Colourless liquid that is one of the strongest mineral acids. Nitric acid attacks most metals, resulting in the formation of nitrates, and is a strong oxidizing agent. It is used in the manufacture of agricultural chemicals, explosives, plastics, dyes and rocket propellants.

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nitric acid

ni·tric ac·id • n. Chem. a colorless or pale yellow liquid acid, HNO3, that is corrosive and poisonous and has strong oxidizing properties, made in the laboratory by distilling nitrates with sulfuric acid.

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Nitric Acid

Nitric Acid

Nitric acid (HNO3) is a colorless, liquid acid widely used in the manufacturing of explosives and fertilizers. When dissolved in water, molecules of nitric acid separate (or dissociate) into hydrogen ions (H+) and nitrate ions (NO3). The fact that nearly every nitric acid molecule dissociates is what makes nitric acid a strong acid. Nitric acid is often the starting material in the industrial production of nitrates for fertilizers.

Plants take up nitrogen from the soil in the form of ammonium ions (NH4+) and nitrate ions, and along with carbon containing molecules made during photosynthesis, these ions are used to synthesize amino acids, from which proteins are made. Within the past hundred years the demand for nitrogen fertilizers has grown dramatically as the need for fertilizers for agriculture has grown. The natural manner in which nitrates reach the soil involves the reaction of nitrogen gas and oxygen gas in the atmosphere to form nitrogen dioxide gas (NO2), which then reacts with atmospheric water, making nitric acid, which provides a natural source of nitrates in water and soil.

During World War I, the Germans were very interested in using ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3), a salt of nitric acid, as an explosive. Many organic nitrates such as nitroglycerine and TNT are also highly explosive.

Nitric acid is made by the reaction of ammonia with oxygen gas. The nitric acid which is produced can then be used to make a variety of compounds. This is a process that has allowed large amounts of fertilizers to be produced relatively inexpensively.

Nitric acid is also formed from the reaction of nitrogen oxides produced during the combustion (burning) of fossil fuels in automobile engines. These nitrogen oxides react with water in the atmosphere and form nitric acid, one cause of acid rain. High levels of nitrates in drinking water can contribute to the formation of nitrosamines, a group of carcinogenic (cancer causing) compounds.

See also Acids and bases; Nitrogen cycle.

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Nitric Acid

Nitric acid

Nitric acid (HNO3) is a colorless, liquid acid widely used in the manufacturing of explosives and fertilizers . When dissolved in water , molecules of nitric acid separate (or dissociate) into hydrogen ions (H+) and nitrate ions (NO3). The fact that nearly every nitric acid molecule dissociates is what makes nitric acid a strong acid. Nitric acid is often the starting material in the industrial production of nitrates for fertilizers.

Plants take up nitrogen from the soil in the form of ammonium ions (NH +4 ) and nitrate ions, and along with carbon containing molecules made during photosynthesis , these ions are used to synthesize amino acids, from which proteins are made. Within the past hundred years the demand for nitrogen fertilizers has grown dramatically as the need for fertilizers for agriculture has grown. The natural manner in which nitrates reach the soil involves the reaction of nitrogen gas and oxygen gas in the atmosphere to form nitrogen dioxide gas (NO2), which then reacts with atmospheric water, making nitric acid, which provides a natural source of nitrates in water and soil.

During World War I, the Germans were very interested in using ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3), a salt of nitric acid, as an explosive. Many organic nitrates such as nitroglycerine and TNT are also highly explosive. Nitric acid is made by the reaction of ammonia with oxygen gas. The nitric acid which is produced can then be used to make a variety of compounds. This is a process that has allowed large amounts of fertilizers to be produced relatively inexpensively.

Nitric acid is also formed from the reaction of nitrogen oxides produced during the combustion (burning) of fossil fuels in automobile engines. These nitrogen oxides react with water in the atmosphere and form nitric acid, one cause of acid rain . High levels of nitrates in drinking water can contribute to the formation of nitrosamines, a group of carcinogenic (cancer causing) compounds.

See also Acids and bases; Nitrogen cycle.

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Nitric Acid

Nitric Acid

OVERVIEW

Nitric acid (NYE-trik AS-id) is a colorless to yellowish liquid with a distinctive acrid (biting), suffocating, or choking odor. The acid tends to decompose when exposed to light, producing nitrogen dioxide (NO2), itself a brownish gas. The yellowish tinge often observed in nitric acid is caused by the presence of small amounts of the nitrogen dioxide. Nitric acid is one of the strongest oxidizing agents known and attacks almost all metals with the notable exceptions of gold and platinum.

KEY FACTS

OTHER NAMES:

Aqua fortis; engraver's acid; azotic acid

FORMULA:

HNO3

ELEMENTS:

Hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen

COMPOUND TYPE:

Inorganic acid

STATE:

Liquid

MOLECULAR WEIGHT:

63.01 g/mol

MELTING POINT:

−41.6°C (−42.9°F)

BOILING POINT:

83°C (180°F); decomposes

SOLUBILITY:

Miscible with water; decomposes in ethyl alcohol; reacts violently with most organic solvents

Nitric acid has been known to scholars for many centuries. Probably the earliest description of its synthesis occurs in the writings of the Arabic alchemist Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan (c. 721–c. 815), better known by his Latinized name of Geber. The compound was widely used by the alchemists, although they knew nothing of its chemical composition. It was not until the middle of the seventeenth century that an improved method for making nitric acid was invented by German chemist Johann Rudolf Glauber (1604–1670). Glauber produced the acid by adding concentrated sulfuric acid (H2SO4) to saltpeter (potassium nitrate; KNO3). A similar method is still used for the laboratory preparation of nitric acid, although it has little or no commercial or industrial value.

The chemical nature and composition of nitric acid were first determined in 1784 by the English chemist and physicist Henry Cavendish (1731–1810). Cavendish applied an electric spark to moist air and found that a new compound-nitric acid-was formed. Cavendish was later able to determine the acid's chemical and physical properties and its chemical composition. The method of preparation most commonly used for nitric acid today was one invented in 1901 by the Russian-born German chemist Friedrich Wilhelm Ostwald (1853–1932). The Ostwald process involves the oxidation of ammonia over a catalyst of platinum or a platinum-rhodium mixture.

Today, nitric acid is one of the most important chemical compounds used in industry. It ranks number thirteen among all chemicals produced in the United States each year. In 2005, about 6.7 million metric tons (7.4 million short tons) of the compound were produced in the United States.

HOW IT IS MADE

Although several methods for the preparation of nitric acid are theoretically available, only one finds much commercial use: the direct oxidation of ammonia, an updated and improved version of the traditional Ostwald process. In this method, ammonia is heated and reacted with air over a catalyst, most commonly a mixture of rhodium and platinum metals. That reaction results in the formation of nitric oxide (NO), which is then converted to nitrogen dioxide (NO2). The nitrogen dioxide reacts with water to form nitric acid.

Interesting Facts

  • Alchemists called nitric acid aqua fortis, a term that means "strong water."
  • Nitric acid is a component of acid rain, a form of pollution that results when substances such as nitrogen oxides react with water, oxygen, and other chemicals in the atmosphere.

COMMON USES AND POTENTIAL HAZARDS

The most common use for nitric acid is in the manufacture of ammonium nitrate, which, in turn, is used primarily as a fertilizer. About three-quarters of all nitric acid produced in the United States is used in fertilizers. The second most important application, accounting for about 10 percent of all nitric acid produced, is in the production of adipic acid [COOH(CH2)3COOH], used in the manufacture of nylon, polyurethanes, and other synthetic plastics. Nitric acid is also used to make a variety of metal nitrates and for the cleaning of metals. Small amounts of the compound are used for a variety of other applications, including:

  • In the manufacture of explosives and fireworks;
  • As a laboratory reagent in commercial, industrial, and academic research laboratories;
  • In the processing of nuclear fuels;
  • For the etching of metals; and
  • In the manufacture of certain types of dyes.

Nitric acid is a highly toxic material. It attacks and destroys skin and other tissues, leaving a distinctive yellow scar caused by the destruction of proteins in the skin or tissue. If swallowed, inhaled, or spilled on the skin, it can cause a number of effects, including severe corrosive burns to the mouth, throat, and stomach; severe irritation or burning of the upper respiratory system, including nose, mouth, and throat; damage to the lungs; severe breathing problems; and burns to the eye surface, conjunctivitis, and blindness. In the most severe cases, the acid can cause death.

Words to Know

ALCHEMY
An ancient field of study from which the modern science of chemistry evolved.
CATALYST
A material that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without undergoing any change in its own chemical structure.
MISCIBLE
Able to be mixed; especially applies to the mixing of one liquid with another.
OXIDATION
A chemical reaction in which oxygen reacts with some other substance or, alternatively, in which some substance loses electrons to another substance, the oxidizing agent.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION

"Concentrated Nitric Acid (70%)." International Chemical Safety Cards. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/ipcsneng/neng0183.html (accessed on October 20, 2005).

"Material Safety Data Sheet." Hill Brothers Chemical Company. http://hillbrothers.com/msds/pdf/nitric-acid.pdf (accessed on October 20, 2005).

"Nitric Acid." Greener Industry. http://www.uyseg.org/greener_industry/pages/nitric_acid/1nitricAcidAP.htm (accessed on October 20, 2005).

"Nitric Acid." Scorecard. The Pollution Information Site. http://www.scorecard.org/chemical-profiles/summary.tcl?edf_substance_id=7697%2d37%2d2 (accessed on October 20, 2005).

See AlsoAmmonia; Ammonium Nitrate; Nitrogen Dioxide; Nitroglycerin

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