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Chemistry LibreTexts

17.6: Enthalpy

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  • The factors influencing a reaction are complicated and varied. Since a catalyst affects activation energy, we might assume it would have some sort of impact on enthalpy but it does not. The change in enthalpy of a reaction depends solely on the chemical compositions of the reactants and products, not on the path taken to get from one to the other.


    Heat changes in chemical reactions are often measured in the laboratory under conditions in which the reacting system is open to the atmosphere. In that case, the system is at a constant pressure. Enthalpy \(\left( H \right)\) is the heat content of a system at constant pressure. Chemists routinely measure changes in enthalpy of chemical systems as reactants are converted into products. The heat that is absorbed or released by a reaction at constant pressure is the same as the enthalpy change, and is given the symbol \(\Delta H\). Unless otherwise specified, all reactions in this material are assumed to take place at constant pressure.

    The change in enthalpy of a reaction is a measure of the differences in enthalpy of the reactants and products. The enthalpy of a system is determined by the energies needed to break chemical bonds and the energies needed to form chemical bonds. Energy needs to be put into the system in order to break chemical bonds - they do not come apart spontaneously in most cases. Bond formation to produce products will involve release of energy. The change in enthalpy shows the trade-offs made in these two processes. Does it take more energy to break bonds than that needed to form bonds? If so, the reaction is endothermic and the enthalpy change is positive. If more energy is produced in bond formation than that needed for bond breaking, the reaction is exothermic and the enthalpy is negative.

    Several factors influence the enthalpy of a system. Enthalpy is an extensive property, determined in part by the amount of material we work with. The state of reactants and products (solid, liquid, or gas) influences the enthalpy value for a system. The direction of the reaction affects the enthalpy value. A reaction that takes place in the opposite direction has the same numerical enthalpy value, but the opposite sign.


    Enthalpy is related to the heat of reaction. Factors influencing entropy are described.


    • CK-12 Foundation by Sharon Bewick, Richard Parsons, Therese Forsythe, Shonna Robinson, and Jean Dupon.