Home Chemistry Gas Laws

Van der Waals Equation

Gas Formula

What is Van der Waals equation?

Van der Waals equation is given by modifying ideal gas law in 1873. He put the reasons for the deviations of the real gases from ideal behavior. Van der Waals proposed that the two postulates used in the kinetic theory of gas molecules not applicable to real gases. These two assumptions are,

  • The gas molecules are point masses or practically they have no volumes.
  • There is no intermolecular attraction in the gas molecules.

Van der Waals equation for real gases derivation and formula

Van der Waals introduced the size effect and the intermolecular attraction effect of the real gases. These two effects or factors in Van der Waals equation are arising because he considered the size and intermolecular attraction among the gas molecules. These two effects in learning chemistry discussed under volume correction and pressure correction of the ideal gas equation.

Liquefaction of Gases

The molecule occupies a certain volume as seen from the fact that gases can be liquified or solidified at low temperatures and high pressure. On decreasing pressure, the thermal energy or specific heat of gas molecules decreased which favors liquefaction, diffusion, or solidification.

In crystalline solids, the atoms, ions, or molecules are considerably resistant to any further attempt of compression but gas molecules are compressible. Van der Waals was the first to introduce the mathematical calculation or correction formula of the ideal gas equation, PiVi = nRT.

Volume correction factor

In learning chemistry or physics, real gas molecules are assumed to be a hard rigid sphere. Therefore the available space for free movement of the molecules becomes less than the original molar volume. Hence the available space for free movement of 1-mole real gas molecules (Vi) = V – b, where Vi and V = molar volume of ideal and real gases respectively and b = volume correction factor. Let us take a gas molecule with radius r and diameter σ = 2r.

Molecular diameter of gases

When two molecules encounter each other the distance between the centers of the two gas molecules would be the diameter (σ ) of the molecule. Therefore, the space indicated by the dashed circle below the picture will be unavailable space for the pair of molecules.

Volume Correction factor for Van der Waals equation of state in real gases

The solution of the volume correction factor (b) helps for the calculation of the diameter or radius of the gas molecule. Therefore, after this volume correction formula of gas, the ideal gas equation is written as, Pi (V – b) = RT.

Pressure correction formula

The pressure of the gas is developed due to the wall collision of the gas molecules. But due to intermolecular attraction, the colliding molecules will experience an inward pull. Therefore, the pressures exerted by the molecules in real gases will be less than the ideal gases. Since the ideal gases have no intermolecular attraction. Therefore, Pideal > Preal, or, Pideal = Preal + Pa, where Pa = pressure correcting term for real gases.

The higher the intermolecular attraction in the gas molecules greater is the magnitude of the pressure correction term. Therefore, the pressure correction term depends on the frequency of molecular collisions. The average pressure exerted by the molecules decreased by Pa, which is proportional to the square of the density of gas molecules.

Therefore, Pa ∝ 1/V2, since density ∝ 1/V
∴ Pa = a/V2
where a = Van der Waals constant for gases.

Van der Waals equation derivation

Using pressure and volume corrections factor formula, Van der Waals equation for 1-mole real gas, (P + a/V2)(V – b) = RT.

For n moles real gases, the volume has to change because the volume is a thermodynamics extensive property in this equation. Therefore, the Van der Waals equation of state for n-mole real gases, (P + an2/V2)(V – nb) = nRT.

Important points

Gases where a = 0 but b ≠ 0

For Van der Waals gases which has no intermolecular attraction (a = 0) but size effect considered (b ≠ 0). For such cases, Preal > Preal = nRT/V-nb, since Pideal = nRT/V only. This means that the molecular size effect of the molecules (repulsive interaction) creates higher pressure than that observed from the ideal gas law and mass or volume gas molecules are negligible.

Gases where b = 0 but a ≠ 0

For the real gases which has attractive force (a ≠ 0) but size effect not considered (b = 0). For such cases, Preal < Preal. Therefore, the intermolecular attraction reduces the pressure of real gases.

Units of Van der Waals constant a and b

Van der Waals equation uses for the calculation of units and dimensions of constant a and b. From the Van der Waals equation for n-mole real gases, Pa = an2/V2, where Pa = unit of internal pressure. Therefore, the unit of Van der Waals constant, a = atm lit2 mol-2. Again nb = unit of volume, hence unit of Van der Waals constant, b = lit mol-1.

In SI system, the unit of a = (newton meter-2) meter6 mol-2 = N meter4 mol-2 and b = meter3 mol-1. The dimensions of Van der Waals constant a and b = [M L5 T-2 mol-2] and [L3 mol-1] respectively.

Significance of Van der Waals constant

Significance of pressure correction factor

The pressure correction factor (a) originates from the intermolecular attraction and Pa = an2/V2. Therefore internal pressure of the gas can be measured by the pressure correction factor. But higher the value of pressure correction factor grater is the intermolecular attraction and more easily the gas liquefied. Therefore Van der Waals constant (a) for greenhouse gas carbon dioxide gas = 3.95 but hydrogen gas = 0.22.

Significance of volume correction factor

Another constant volume correction factor (b) measures the molecular size and also the repulsive forces. Grater, the value of b larger the size of the gas molecule. Therefore the Van der Waals constant b for carbon dioxide = 0.04 but hydrogen = 0.02.

Compressibility factor for real gas

Van der Waals equation uses for the calculation of Boyle temperature, critical temperature. It also explains the compressibility factor and Amagat curves for n-mole real gases. Mathematical calculation of Boyle temperature for real gases, TB = a/Rb. The compressibility factor is the function of temperature and pressure only.

Compressibility of Van der Waals gas from pressure volume curves formula

  • When b > a/RT, the initial slope is positive and the size-effect or factor (b) dominates the base properties of the gas.
  • However, b < a/RT, the initial slope is negative and the effect of attractive forces (a) dominates.

Therefore, the Van der Waals equation balance both size effect and intermolecular forces in the positive and negative plot of compressibility vs pressure.

Van der Waals gases

From the above slope, we can say that at 0°C, the effect of attractive forces dominated (carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and hydrocarbons like methane, ethane, acetylene), while the molecular size effect dominates for the behavior of hydrogen gas. The unit value of Van der Waals constant hydrogen, helium, nitrogen, etc for study chemistry or physics is extremely small as these gases are difficult to liquefy.