Skip to main content
Chemistry LibreTexts

Sources of Nitrogen Oxides

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    Natural Sources - Lighting Bolts

    A natural source of nitrogen oxides occurs from a lightning stroke. The very high temperature in the vicinity of a lightning bolt causes the gases oxygen and nitrogen in the air to react to form nitric oxide.

    \[\ce{N2 + O2 -> NO}\]

    The nitric oxide very quickly reacts with more oxygen to form nitrogen dioxide.

    \[\ce{NO + O2 -> NO2}\]

    Both of the nitrogen compounds are known collectively as nitrogen oxides or \(\ce{NO_{x}}\).

    Nitrogen reacts with oxygen to form nitric oxide. Nitric oxide reacts with oxygen to produce nitrogen dioxide.

    Human Sources of Nitrogen Oxides

    At normal temperatures the oxygen and nitrogen gases do not react together. In the presence of very high temperatures nitrogen and oxygen do react together to form nitric oxide. These conditions are found in the combustion of coal and oil at electric power plants, and also during the combustion of gasoline in automobiles. Both of these sources contribute about equally to the formation of nitrogen oxides.

    In areas of high automobile traffic, such as in large cities, the amount of nitrogen oxides emitted into the atmosphere can be quite significant. In the Los Angeles area, the main source of acid rain is from automobiles. In certain national parks such as Yosemite and Sequoia, automobile traffic is banned to limit the amount of air pollution damage to the trees and plants. This also has the effect of reducing the visual smog in the air.

    The formation of acid rain happens with nitrogen dioxide reacts with water to produce nitrous acid and nitric acid.

    Outside Links

    • Clyde, Dale D. " Dynamite Demo? ." J. Chem. Educ. 1995 72 1130.
    • Driscoll, Jerry A. " Acid Rain Demonstration: The Formation of Nitrogen Oxides as a By-Product of High-Temperature Flames in Connection with Internal Combustion Engines ." J. Chem. Educ. 1997 74 1424.
    • Foster, Natalie I.; Heindel, Ned D. "The discovery of nitroglycerine: Its preparation and therapeutic utility (SBS)." J. Chem. Educ. 1981, 58, 364.
    • Leenson, I. A. " Approaching Equilibrium in the N2O4-NO2 System: A Common Mistake in Textbooks." J. Chem. Educ. 2000 77 1652.


    Sources of Nitrogen Oxides is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

    • Was this article helpful?