CIE AS Chemistry (9701) 2019-2021

Revision Notes

2.4.3 Nitrogen Oxides

Oxides of Nitrogen

Natural occurrence of nitrogen oxides

  • Due to its lack of reactivity, only under extreme conditions will nitrogen react with oxygen to form gaseous nitrogen oxides
  • An example of these extreme conditions is lightning which can trigger the formation of nitrogen(II) and nitrogen(IV) oxides (NO and NO2 respectively)
  • The chemical equations for these reactions are:

N2(g) + O2(g) → 2NO(g)

N2(g) + 2O2(g) → 2NO2(g)

Man-made occurrence of nitrogen oxides

  • In the engine of a car, a mixture of air and fuel is compressed and ignited by a spark
  • Air consists of 78% of nitrogen and 21% of oxygen
  • Under this high pressure and temperature inside a car engine, nitrogen can react with oxygen to form nitrogen oxides
  • These nitrogen oxides are released into the atmosphere through the car’s exhaust fumes

Catalytic removal of nitrogen oxides

  • The nitrogen oxides released through cars’ exhaust fumes pollute the atmosphere
  • Many car exhaust systems are therefore fitted with catalytic converters to reduce the pollutants from motor vehicles
  • The nitrogen oxides are reduced on the surface of the hot catalyst (eg. platinum) to form the unreactive and harmless nitrogen gas which is then released from the vehicle’s exhaust pipe into the atmosphere
  • The chemical reaction for the reduction of nitrogen oxide to nitrogen gas by the catalyst is as follows:

2CO(g) + 2NO(g) → 2CO2(g) + N2(g)

Nitrogen & Sulfur - Catalytic Converters, downloadable AS & A Level Chemistry revision notes

A catalytic converter help reduce the pollutants from motor vehicles

Oxides of Nitrogen & Acid Rain

Formation of acid rain by nitrogen oxides

  • As mentioned earlier, lightning strikes trigger the formation of nitrogen(II) and nitrogen (IV) oxides in air:

2NO(g) + O2(g) ⇌ 2NO2(g)

  • The air also contains oxygen and tiny droplets of water that make up clouds
  • The nitrogen(IV) oxide (NO2) dissolves and reacts in water with oxygen as follows:

NO2(aq) + H2O(l) + 1½O2(g) → 2HNO3(aq)

  • When the clouds rise, the temperature decreases, and the droplets get larger
  • When the droplet containing dilute nitric acid are heavy enough, they will fall down as acid rain

Nitrogen & Sulfur Acid Rain Formation, downloadable AS & A Level Chemistry revision notes

The diagram shows the formation of acid rain by the oxidation of nitrogen(IV) oxide

Nitrogen oxide as a catalyst

  • Acid rain also contains dilute sulfuric acid (H2SO4)
  • Sulfur(IV) oxide (SO2) is another pollutant found in the atmosphere
  • When SO2 is oxidised, it forms SO3 which reacts with rainwater to form dilute sulfuric acid as follows:

SO3(g) + H2O(l) → H2SO4(aq)

  • Nitrogen oxides can directly cause acid rain but can also act as catalysts in the formation of acid rain
  • NO2 catalyses the oxidation of SO2 to SO3:

NO2(g) + SO2(g) → SO3(g) + NO(g)

    • The formed NO gets oxidised to regenerate NO2:

NO(g) + ½ O2(g) → NO2(g)

  • The regenerated NO2 molecule can get again oxidise another SO2 molecule to SO3 which will react with rainwater to form H2SO4

Nitrogen & Sulfur - Formation of Dilute Sulfuric Acid, downloadable AS & A Level Chemistry revision notes

The formation of dilute sulfuric acid is catalysed by the nitrogen oxides


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