Common Oxidizing Agents

Submitted by ChemPRIME Staff on Thu, 12/16/2010 - 14:27

A good reducing agentA chemical species that donates electrons in order to reduce another species. In the process the reducing agent is itself oxidized. must be able to donate electrons readily. This means that it must not have very much attraction for electrons. Among the elements, low electronegativity is characteristic of good reducing agents. Molecules and ions which contain relatively electropositive elements which have low oxidation numbers are also good reducing agents. Oxidizing agents, on the other hand, must be able to accept electrons readily. Highly electronegative elements can do this, as can molecules or ions which contain relatively electronegative elements and even some metals which have high oxidationThat part of a chemical reaction in which a reactant loses electrons; simultaneous reduction of a reactant must occur. numbers. Bear these general rules in mind as we examine examples of common oxidizing agents in the following paragraphs.

Oxidizing Agents

Halogens (group VllA elements)      All four elemental halogens, F2, Cl2, Br2, and I2, are able to accept electrons according to the half-equation

X2 + 2e → 2X      X = F, Cl, Br, I

As we might expect from the periodic variation of electronegativity, the oxidizing power of the halogens decreases in the order F2 > Cl2 > Br2 > I2. Fluorine is such a strong oxidizing agent that it can react with water:

2F2 + 6H2O → 4H3O+ + 4F + O2

Chlorine also reacts with water, but only in the presence of sunlight. Bromine is weaker, and iodine has only mild oxidizing power.

Oxygen      Oxygen gasA state of matter in which a substance occupies the full volume of its container and changes shape to match the shape of the container. In a gas the distance between particles is much greater than the diameters of the particles themselves; hence the distances between particles can change as necessary so that the matter uniformly occupies its container., which constitutes about 20 percent of the earth’s atmosphereA unit of pressure equal to 101.325 kPa or 760 mmHg; abbreviated atm. Also, the mixture of gases surrounding the earth., is another electronegative element which is a good oxidizing agent. It is very slightly weaker than chlorine, but considerably stronger than bromine. Because the atmosphere contains such a strong oxidant, few substances occur in reduced form at the earth’s surface. An oxidized form of silicon, SiO2, is one of the most plentiful constituents of the crust of the earth. Most metals, too, occur as oxides and must be reduced before they can be obtained in elemental form. When iron rusts, it forms the red-brown oxide Fe2O3xH2O, which always contains an indeterminate amount of water.

Oxyanions and oxyacids      In aqueous solution NO3, IO3, MnO4, Cr2O72–, and a number of other oxyanions serve as convenient, strong oxidizing agents. The structure of the last oxyanion mentioned above is shown in Fig. 1. The most strongly oxidizing oxyanions often contain an element in its highest possible oxidation stateA formally defined charge that an atom in a compound or ion would have if the compound or ion consisted entirely of monatomic ions. Based on a Lewis diagram, the charge that an atom would have if all electrons in bonds were assigned to the more electronegative atom or divided equally between atoms of the same electronegativity., that is, with an oxidation number equal to the periodic group number. For example, NO3 contains nitrogen in a +5 oxidation state, Cr2O72– contains chromium +6, and has manganese +7. The oxidizing power of the dichromate ion is employed in laboratory cleaning solution, a solution of Na2Cr2O7 in concentratedIncreased the concentration of a mixture or solution (verb). Having a large concentration (adjective). H2SO4. This readily oxidizes the organicRefers to the branch of chemistry that studies compounds containing carbon, usually in combination with hydrogen and other elements such as O, N, S, and P. Certain small ions and compounds containing carbon (such as carbonate ions and carbon dioxide) are not considered to be organic, but rather are classed as inorganic. compounds in grease to carbon dioxide. It is also highly corrosive, eats holes in clothing, and must be handled with care. Dark purple permanganate ion is another very common oxidizing agent. In basic solution it is reduced to solidA state of matter having a specific shape and volume and in which the particles do not readily change their relative positions. dark brown MnO2. In acidic solution, however, it forms almost colorless Mn2+(aq).

Figure 1 Space-filling ball-and-stick models of dichromate ion, Cr2O72–. Chromium atoms are gray and oxygen atoms are dark red.