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Chemical Catalyst

Catalyst in a chemical reaction

Chemical catalyst is a foreign substance that increases the speed of the reaction by lowering activation energy without change at the end of the chemical or biological process. A catalyst in chemistry can be simply defined as a substance that enhances the speed of the chemical reaction itself remaining unaltered in mass, activity, and chemical composition. The catalyst plays an important role in many chemical and real-life biological processes and works to find the alternate path where activation energy decreases but kinetics reaction rate increases.

What is catalysis?

The phenomenon where catalysts show their activity define as the catalysis reaction in chemistry. It is mainly two types like homogeneous or heterogeneous catalysis. For example, hydrogen ion acts as a positive catalyst in the hydrolysis of ester or sugar without effect on chemical equilibrium.

What is negative catalyst?

Sometimes the foreign substance slows down the speed of the chemical synthesis process or even stops the reaction is called a negative catalyst. But such a common definition does not fully satisfy negative catalysts because negative catalysts sometimes change the chemical process permanently. Therefore, such substances in chemistry are properly called an inhibitor. For example, sulfuric acid acts as an inhibitor in the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide.

Characteristics of catalyst

The catalyst uses in the catalysis reaction has some common and definite characteristics in chemistry or chemical science.

  • The most important characteristics of the catalyst remain unchanged in the molecular mass, density, concentration, and chemical formula of constitute elements at the end of the reaction. However, the physical state of chemicals like particle size or color of the chemical catalyst may be altered. For example, manganese dioxide uses for the decomposition of potassium chlorate becomes finely divided powder after the chemical reaction is completed.
  • A catalyst can increase the rate or speed of chemical reactions.
  • It can not start a reaction but only increases or decreases the speed of the reaction.
  • The catalyst does not affect the final state of chemical equilibrium. This meaning the catalyst itself is not consumed during the chemical reaction. It regenerates at the end of the reaction. For example, 1.7 gm Platinium produces 1.8 cc of oxygen per minute from the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide. But the platinum remains active even production of 10 lit of oxygen in catalysis reaction.

How do catalysts effect equilibrium?

The catalyst does not affect the final state of equilibrium derived from Van’t Hoff equation, ΔG0 = – RT lnk, where k = equilibrium constant. Since the catalysts do not contribute any energy to the system to increases the free energy but increase the entropy of the system. The thermodynamics definition or equation of free energy shows the fact that the catalyst does not change the free energy and equilibrium constant of the chemical reaction.

Chemical catalyst or catalysts effect on activation energy or rate of catalysis reaction in chemistry or biologyThe equilibrium constant (k) = k1/k2, where k1 and k2 = rate of forward and backward reaction. Therefore, if the catalyst increases the rate of the forward process or k1 increases, to keep k constant, k2 also increases to the same extent. Catalysts enhancing the rate of both types like forward and backward reaction, which helps to attain equilibrium more quickly but it does not affect the equilibrium according to the Le Chatelier principle.

Catalytic action of catalysts

From the definition and example, catalysts play a specific role in a specific catalytic reaction in science. Therefore, we can not be used the same common catalyst for every chemical process. For example, manganese dioxide can catalyze the decomposition of potassium chlorate but not potassium nitrate. However, the change of catalyst defines the nature of the chemical product of the reaction in chemistry. For example, carbon monoxide and hydrogen in the presence of nickel catalyst produce methane gas but in the presence of zinc oxide produce methyl alcohol molecule.

Chemical reactions chemical catalyst
CO + H2 → CH4 + H2O presence of Ni
CO + H2 → CH3OH presence of ZnO
HCOOH → H2 + CO2 presence of Cu or ZnO
HCOOH → H2O + CO presence of Al2O3

An optimum temperature at which the efficiency or role of the natural catalyst like enzyme is most marked in chemical science and biology. In biological catalysis reaction, the catalytic action of the enzyme increase with the rise of specific heat or temperature but the efficiency falls after a certain temperature due to the coagulation of the enzyme.

Types of catalyst in chemical reaction

In real life, the most common chemical catalyst and catalyzed reactions are classified into two types,

  • homogeneous catalyst
  • heterogeneous catalyst

Homogeneous catalyst

In homogeneous types of catalysis reaction, the catalyst forms a single phase with the reactants. Many homogeneous catalyzed reactions have been studied in the gas phase and liquid phase.

Examples of homogeneous catalyst

The reaction rate in a homogeneous catalysis reaction is invariably proportional to the concentration of the catalyst. The most common examples of such catalysis chemical reactions in the gas phase are,

  • Oxidation of SO2 to SO3 catalyzed by NO2.
  • Decomposition of nitrous oxide to nitrogen and oxygen catalyzed by NO2.
  • Decomposition of ethers or acetaldehyde by iodine catalyst.

In heterogeneous catalysis, the chemical catalyst and reagents form separate phases and often the surface or interface is responsible for the catalytic properties.

Heterogeneous catalyst

Heterogeneous catalysis reactions mean, a solid serve as a catalyst and the reactants are gaseous or liquid phases. One or more of these reactants are absorbed on the surface of the solid. Therefore, the surface provides an alternative path for lowering activation energy or accelerate the reaction rate. In most of the reactions, the heat of adsorption increases the activation energy of the reactant, and the equilibrium reaches easily. The reaction of the solid surface catalyst consisting of four consecutive chemical steps,

  • Diffusion of gases to the surface
  • Adsorption of the gases on the surface
  • Reactions on the surface
  • Desorption or diffusion of products from the surface to the bulk.

The diffusion and desorption process is very rapid and does not play any important role in hetergenious catalysis reactions.

Homogeneous catalyst example

The catalytic function on the surfaces of catalysts is specific in nature and different catalytic elements are effective for the different types of catalytic reactions.

Homogeneous reaction Catalyst examples
hydrogenation/ dehydrogenation Ni, Cu, ZnO, Cr2O3
dehydration/hydration Al2O3
cracking of petroleum SiO2-Al2O3 gel
synthesis of ammonia iron
polymerization Al(Et)3, TiCl4

Transition metal surfaces like nickel or copper are a very good list of heterogeneous surfaces for the hydrogenation of alkenes or olefin. Alumina is a suitable catalyst for the synthesis of hydrocarbon from a secondary alcohol. These due to the fact that hydrogen is strongly absorbed by nickel or copper catalysts surface but water molecules are strongly absorbed by the alumina catalyst surface.