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In addition to its uses in chemical laboratories, nitric acid is utilized in fertilizer, rocket fuel, and metallurgy. In this lesson, we will discuss nitric acid and its different uses, as well as learn about its formula and structure.

Nitric Acid: Formula & Structure

Nitric acid is a substance that we encounter more often than we think.

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You have encountered nitric acid if you have ever bought a bag of fertilizer or been caught in the rain. The manufacturing of fertilizer is actually the most common use of nitric acid. Perhaps more interestingly, rainwater is naturally acidic, meaning there is a small concentration of nitric acid present in it.

Nitric acid is a highly corrosive acidic substance. Its physical state is a colorless liquid, but sometimes it may have a yellowish tint. Nitric acid dissolves metals such as iron, copper, and silver.

It is a strong oxidizing agent, a substance that readily accepts electrons from another substance.Its chemical formula is HNO3, so it has one hydrogen (H) atom, one nitrogen (N) atom, and three oxygen (O) atoms.

All three oxygen (O) atoms are bonded to the nitrogen (N) atom. The nitrogen atom carries a charge of +1, and one oxygen atom carries a charge of -1. A positive charge on an atom indicates that it is less electronegative, and a negative charge on an atom indicates that it is more electronegative.

Nitrogen is therefore less electronegative than the oxygen atoms because nitrogen carries a positive charge.The structure of nitric acid is planar, meaning the chemical structure is flat. There are two major resonance forms of nitric acid. Resonance form occurs when there are multiple ways of drawing the Lewis structure of a compound. A Lewis structure is a diagram that shows how atoms are bonded together and illustrates the presence of non-bonded pairs of electrons in a compound. The double-headed arrow drawn between the two resonance structures is there to show that there is more than one way to draw the structure.

Uses of Nitric Acid: Fertilizer

Nitric acid is a very important substance that is used as a raw material to produce other substances. This makes it important in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. The most common use for nitric acid is to make fertilizer. One of the raw materials required to make an effective fertilizer is nitric acid, where it reacts with ammonia to produce ammonium nitrate.

Other Uses of Nitric Acid

Nitric acid is also used as a precursor to make organic nitrogen-containing compounds, such as nylon.

Nitric acid is also used to make nitrate salts like ammonium nitrate, silver nitrate, and calcium nitrate.

Nitric acid is also used for purification of metals, such as gold, silver, and platinum, by removing other metal contaminants that are present. Because of this ability, metals like copper, bronze, and brass can actually be etched with nitric acid, creating permanent designs in the metal.

In the food and dairy industry, nitric acid is also used to clean equipment because it can remove calcium and magnesium compounds efficiently.

Low concentrations of nitric acid (around ten percent) may also be used to age pine and maple woods artificially.

Lesson Summary

Nitric acid is a highly acidic substance and a strong oxidizing agent. Its physical state is a colorless or slightly yellowish liquid. The chemical formula of nitric acid is HNO3 and it is made up of one hydrogen atom, one nitrogen atom, and three oxygen atoms. Its chemical structure indicates that it is a planar molecule and it has two resonance forms.

Nitric acid is most commonly used in the production of fertilizer. Other uses include as an oxidizer in liquid propellants in rockets, a precursor in the synthesis of organic nitrogen-containing compounds and nitrate salts, etching and purification of various metals, as a cleaning agent in the food and dairy industries, and in the artificial aging of wood.

Nitric Acid Terms

nitricacid
Terms Definitions
Nitric acid a highly corrosive acidic substance
Strong oxidizing agent a substance that readily accepts electrons from another substance
Resonance form occurs when there are multiple ways of drawing the Lewis structure of a compound
Lewis structure a diagram that shows how atoms are bonded together and illustrates the presence of non-bonded pairs of electrons in a compound
White fuming nitric acid (WFNA) a storable oxidizer that consists of highly concentrated nitric acid – around greater than 95%
Red fuming nitric acid (RFNA) a storable oxidizer with a nitric acid concentration of around 84%

Learning Outcomes

After this lesson, you should have the ability to:

  • Describe the chemical formula and properties of nitric acid
  • Examine the structure of nitric acid
  • Recall the different uses of nitric acid

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