Bubbling nitrogen dioxide through hydrogen peroxide can help to improve acid yield.
2 NO2 + H2O2 → 2 HNO3
Commercial grade nitric acid solutions are usually between 52% and 68% nitric acid. Production of nitric acid is via the Ostwald process, named after German chemist Wilhelm Ostwald. In this process, anhydrous ammonia is oxidized to nitric oxide, in the presence of platinum or rhodium gauze catalyst at a high temperature of about 500 K and a pressure of 9 bar.
4 NH3 (g) + 5 O2 (g) → 4 NO (g) + 6 H2O (g) (ΔH = −905.2 kJ)
Nitric oxide is then reacted with oxygen in air to form nitrogen dioxide.
2 NO (g) + O2 (g) → 2 NO2 (g) (ΔH = −114 kJ/mol)
This is subsequently absorbed in water to form nitric acid and nitric oxide.
3 NO2 (g) + H2O (l) → 2 HNO3 (aq) + NO (g) (ΔH = −117 kJ/mol)
The nitric oxide is cycled back for reoxidation. Alternatively, if the last step is carried out in air:
4 NO2 (g) + O2 (g) + 2 H2O (l) → 4 HNO3 (aq)
The aqueous HNO3 obtained can be concentrated by distillation up to about 68% by mass. Further concentration to 98% can be achieved by dehydration with concentrated H2SO4. By using ammonia derived from the Haber process, the final product can be produced from nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen which are derived from air and natural gas as the sole feedstocks.
Prior to the introduction of the Haber process for the production of ammonia in 1913, nitric acid was produced using the Birkeland–Eyde process, also known as the arc process. This process is based upon the oxidation of atmospheric nitrogen by atmospheric oxygen to nitric oxide at very high temperatures. An electric arc was used to provide the high temperatures, and yields of up to 4% nitric oxide were obtained. The nitric oxide was cooled and oxidized by the remaining atmospheric oxygen to nitrogen dioxide, and this was subsequently absorbed in dilute nitric acid. The process was very energy intensive and was rapidly displaced by the Ostwald process once cheap ammonia became available.
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