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Chemistry LibreTexts

8: Non-Ideal Mixtures of Liquids

This page looks at the phase diagrams for non-ideal mixtures of liquids, and introduces the idea of an azeotropic mixture (also known as an azeotrope or constant boiling mixture). It goes on to explain how this complicates the process of fractionally distilling such a mixture.

vapor pressure / composition diagrams for non-ideal mixtures

You will remember that, because of Raoult's Law, if you plot the vapor pressure of an ideal mixture of two liquids against their composition, you get a straight line graph like this:



In this case, pure A has the higher vapor pressure and so is the more volatile component. Raoult's Law only works for ideal mixtures. In these, the forces between the particles in the mixture are exactly the same as those in the pure liquids. The tendency for the particles to escape is the same in the mixture and in the pure liquids. That's not true in non-ideal mixtures.

Positive deviations from Raoult's Law

In mixtures showing a positive deviation from Raoult's Law, the vapor pressure of the mixture is always higher than you would expect from an ideal mixture. The deviation can be small - in which case, the straight line in the last graph turns into a slight curve.



Notice that the highest vapor pressure anywhere is still the vapor pressure of pure A. Cases like this, where the deviation is small, behave just like ideal mixtures as far as distillation is concerned, and we don't need to say anything more about them. But some liquid mixtures have very large positive deviations from Raoult's Law, and in these cases, the curve becomes very distorted.



Notice that mixtures over a range of compositions have higher vapor pressures than either pure liquid. The maximum vapor pressure is no longer that of one of the pure liquids. This has important consequences when we look at boiling points and distillation further down the page.

The fact that the vapor pressure is higher than ideal in these mixtures means that molecules are breaking away more easily than they do in the pure liquids. That is because the intermolecular forces between molecules of A and B are less than they are in the pure liquids.

You can see this when you mix the liquids. Less heat is evolved when the new attractions are set up than was absorbed to break the original ones. Heat will therefore be absorbed when the liquids mix. The enthalpy change of mixing is endothermic. The classic example of a mixture of this kind is ethanol and water. This produces a highly distorted curve with a maximum vapor pressure for a mixture containing 95.6% of ethanol by mass.

Negative deviations from Raoult's Law

In exactly the same way, you can have mixtures with vapor pressures which are less than would be expected by Raoult's Law. In some cases, the deviations are small, but in others they are much greater giving a minimum value for vapor pressure lower than that of either pure component.



These are cases where the molecules break away from the mixture less easily than they do from the pure liquids. New stronger forces must exist in the mixture than in the original liquids. You can recognize this happening because heat is evolved when you mix the liquids - more heat is given out when the new stronger bonds are made than was used in breaking the original weaker ones.

Many (although not all) examples of this involve actual reaction between the two liquids. The example of a major negative deviation that we are going to look at is a mixture of nitric acid and water. These two covalent molecules react to give hydroxonium ions and nitrate ions.

\[ H_2O_{(l)} + HNO_{3(l)} \rightleftharpoons H_3O^+_{(aq)} + NO_{3(aq)}^- \tag{1}\]

You now have strong ionic attractions involved.

Boiling point / composition diagrams for non-ideal mixtures

A large positive deviation from Raoult's Law: ethanol and water mixtures

Remember that a large positive deviation from Raoult's Law produces a vapor pressure curve with a maximum value at some composition other than pure A or B. If a mixture has a high vapor pressure it means that it will have a low boiling point. The molecules are escaping easily and you won't have to heat the mixture much to overcome the intermolecular attractions completely. The implication of this is that the boiling point / composition curve will have a minimum value lower than the boiling points of either A or B.

In the case of mixtures of ethanol and water, this minimum occurs with 95.6% by mass of ethanol in the mixture. The boiling point of this mixture is 78.2°C, compared with the boiling point of pure ethanol at 78.5°C, and water at 100°C. You might think that this 0.3°C doesn't matter much, but it has huge implications for the separation of ethanol / water mixtures. The next diagram shows the boiling point / composition curve for ethanol / water mixtures. I've also included on the same diagram a vapor composition curve in exactly the same way as we looked at on the previous pages about phase diagrams for ideal mixtures.


Using the diagram

Suppose you are going to distil a mixture of ethanol and water with composition C1 as shown on the next diagram. It will boil at a temperature given by the liquid curve and produce a vapor with composition C2.



When that vapor condenses it will, of course, still have the composition C2. If you reboil that, it will produce a new vapor with composition C3.



You can see that if you carried on with this boiling-condensing-reboiling sequence, you would eventually end up with a vapor with a composition of 95.6% ethanol. If you condense that you obviously get a liquid with 95.6% ethanol.

What happens if you reboil that liquid? The liquid curve and the vapor curve meet at that point. The vapor produced will have that same composition of 95.6% ethanol. If you condense it again, it will still have that same composition. You have hit a barrier. It is impossible to get pure ethanol by distilling any mixture of ethanol and water containing less than 95.6% of ethanol.

This particular mixture of ethanol and water boils as if it were a pure liquid. It has a constant boiling point, and the vapor composition is exactly the same as the liquid. It is known as a constant boiling mixture or an azeotropic mixture or an azeotrope.

The implications of this for fractional distillation of dilute solutions of ethanol are obvious. The liquid collected by condensing the vapor from the top of the fractionating column can't be pure ethanol. The best you can produce by simple fractional distillation is 95.6% ethanol. What you can get (although it isn't very useful!) from the mixture is pure water. As ethanol rich vapor is given off from the liquid boiling in the distillation flask, it will eventually lose all the ethanol to leave just water.

To Summarize

Distilling a mixture of ethanol containing less than 95.6% of ethanol by mass lets you collect:

  • a distillate containing 95.6% of ethanol in the collecting flask (provided you are careful with the temperature control, and the fractionating column is long enough);
  • pure water in the boiling flask.

What if you distil a mixture containing more than 95.6% ethanol?

Work it out for yourself using the phase diagram, and starting with a composition to the right of the azeotropic mixture. You should find that you get:

  • a distillate containing 95.6% of ethanol in the collecting flask (provided you are careful with the temperature control, and the fractionating column is long enough);
  • pure ethanol in the boiling flask.

A large negative deviation from Raoult's Law: Nitric acid and water mixtures

Nitric acid and water form mixtures in which particles break away to form the vapor with much more difficulty than in either of the pure liquids. You can see this from the vapor pressure / composition curve discussed further up the page. That means that mixtures of nitric acid and water can have boiling points higher than either of the pure liquids because it needs extra heat to break the stronger attractions in the mixture.

In the case of mixtures of nitric acid and water, there is a maximum boiling point of 120.5°C when the mixture contains 68% by mass of nitric acid. That compares with the boiling point of pure nitric acid at 86°C, and water at 100°C. Notice the much bigger difference this time due to the presence of the new ionic interactions (see above). The phase diagram looks like this:


Using the diagram

Distilling dilute nitric acid. Start with a dilute solution of nitric acid with a composition of C1 and trace through what happens.



The vapor produced is richer in water than the original acid. If you condense the vapor and reboil it, the new vapor is even richer in water. Fractional distillation of dilute nitric acid will enable you to collect pure water from the top of the fractionating column. As the acid loses water, it becomes more concentrated. Its concentration gradually increases until it gets to 68% by mass of nitric acid. At that point, the vapor produced has exactly the same concentration as the liquid, because the two curves meet.

You produce a constant boiling mixture (or azeotropic mixture or azeotrope). If you distil dilute nitric acid, that's what you will eventually be left with in the distillation flask. You can't produce pure nitric acid from the dilute acid by distilling it.

Distilling nitric acid more concentrated than 68% by mass

This time you are starting with a concentration C2 to the right of the azeotropic mixture.



The vapor formed is richer in nitric acid. If you condense and reboil this, you will get a still richer vapor. If you continue to do this all the way up the fractionating column, you can get pure nitric acid out of the top. As far as the liquid in the distillation flask is concerned, it is gradually losing nitric acid. Its concentration drifts down towards the azeotropic composition. Once it reaches that, there can't be any further change, because it then boils to give a vapor with the same composition as the liquid. Distilling a nitric acid / water mixture containing more than 68% by mass of nitric acid gives you pure nitric acid from the top of the fractionating column and the azeotropic mixture left in the distillation flask.


Jim Clark (