Even though the use of nitric acid can be traced back to the 13th century, not many people out there can boast of knowing what its uses are.
A strong acid is an acid which essentially ionizes all its hydrogen ions in water solution. One of the best examples of the same is nitric acid―a corrosive and toxic strong acid which is used as an oxidizing agent in various industries.
Nitric Acid Facts
Nitric acid is also known as aqua fortis or azotic acid. Its molecular formula is HNO3. In its pure form, it has a clear colorless appearance. However, the accumulation of oxides of nitrogen in it over the period gives it a yellow cast. Similarly, the fumes coming from this hygroscopic liquid give it a choking smell. The molar mass for nitric acid is 63.012 g/mol−1, while its density is 1.5129 g/cm3. Being a strong acid, it is highly soluble in water. Its melting point is −44 °F or 231 K and boiling point is 181 °F or 356 K.
Nitric Acid Uses
Owing to the various properties discussed above, nitric acid has become a vital component of various industries, right from fertilizer production to manufacturing of explosives and rocket propellant. Given below is a list of its applications in various fields―the length of which will give you a rough idea about its importance for us
- In the field of aerospace engineering, nitric acid is widely used as an oxidizer in liquid- fueled rockets.
- In explosives industry, it is used for manufacturing explosives such as T.N.T., gun cotton, nitro glycerin, etc.
- In fertilizer production, it is used for manufacturing fertilizers like calcium nitrate, ammonium nitrate, etc.
- It is used for making nitrate salts, such as ammonium nitrate, silver nitrate, calcium nitrate, etc.
- It is widely used in the field of chemistry as a laboratory reagent.
- It is also used in making dyes and drugs from various coal tar products.
- It is used for purification of various precious metals, including gold, silver, and platinum.
- In metallurgy, it is used in combination with alcohol for etching designs on metals like brass, copper, bronze, etc.
- It is used in preparation of ‘aqua regia’ or nitrohydrochloric acid―the fuming liquid in which noble elements are dissolved.
- In very low concentration, it is used to artificially age pine and maple wood.
- Its aqueous blend is used for cleaning food and dairy equipment, owing to its ability to remove precipitated calcium and magnesium compounds with ease.
- It is also used widely in colorometric test in order to determine the difference between heroin and morphine.
Plants require nitrogen for growth, but they can’t absorb it directly from the atmosphere. During rains, thunderstorms in particular, copious amount of nitric acid is formed in the atmosphere as a result of chemical reaction which causes acid rain. It gets dissolved in the water and makes its way to the soil, from where it is absorbed by the plants, thus fulfilling their nitrogen requirement.
Though it is quite useful, one cannot ignore the fact that there do exist some hazards of nitric acid. The powerful oxidizing agent that nitric acid is, it can easily cause an explosion when it comes in contact with compounds like cyanides and carbides. With all these hazards in the picture, it becomes very important to handle such compounds with utmost care.