# 7.4: Catalysis

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## Harper College Chemistry Department

Derived from Catalysis by OpenStax

Page by: OpenStax Chemistry: Atom First

Summary

A catalyst speeds up the rate of a reaction by lowering the activation energy; in addition, the catalyst is regenerated in the process. Several reactions that are energetically favorable in the absence of a catalyst only occur at a reasonable rate when a catalyst is present. One example is hydrogenation, a process used in food industries to convert unsaturated fats to saturated fats. A comparison of the reaction coordinate diagrams (also known as energy diagrams) for catalyzed and uncatalyzed hydrogenation of a simple hydrocarbon molecule is shown in Figure.

### Catalysts Do Not Affect Equilibrium

A catalyst can speed up the rate of a reaction. Though this increase in reaction rate may cause a system to reach equilibrium more quickly (by speeding up the forward and reverse reactions), a catalyst has no effect on the value of an equilibrium constant nor on equilibrium concentrations.

The interplay of changes in concentration or pressure, temperature, and the lack of an influence of a catalyst on a chemical equilibrium is illustrated in the industrial synthesis of ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen according to the equation:

“>N2(g) + 3H2(g) 2NH3(g)
“>A large quantity of ammonia is manufactured by this reaction. Each year, ammonia is among the top 10 chemicals, by mass, manufactured in the world. About 2 billion pounds are manufactured in the United States each year. Ammonia plays a vital role in our global economy. It is used in the production of fertilizers and is, itself, an important fertilizer for the growth of corn, cotton and other crops. Large quantities of ammonia are converted to nitric acid, which plays an important role in the production of fertilizers, explosives, plastics, dyes, and fibers, and is also used in the steel industry.

Catalysts function by providing an alternate reaction mechanism that has a lower activation energy than would be found in the absence of the catalyst. In some cases, the catalyzed mechanism may include additional steps, as depicted in the reaction diagrams shown in Figure 2. This lower activation energy results in an increase in rate as described by the Arrhenius equation. Note that a catalyst decreases the activation energy for both the forward and the reverse reactions and hence accelerates both the forward and the reverse reactions. Consequently, the presence of a catalyst will permit a system to reach equilibrium more quickly, but it has no effect on the position of the equilibrium as reflected in the value of its equilibrium constant (see the chapter on chemical equilibrium).

Using Reaction Diagrams to Compare Catalyzed ReactionsThe two reaction diagrams here represent the same reaction: one without a catalyst and one with a catalyst. Identify which diagram suggests the presence of a catalyst, and determine the activation energy for the catalyzed reaction:

Solution:

A catalyst does not affect the energy of reactant or product, so those aspects of the diagrams can be ignored; they are, as we would expect, identical in that respect. There is, however, a noticeable difference in the transition state, which is distinctly lower in diagram (b) than it is in (a). This indicates the use of a catalyst in diagram (b). The activation energy is the difference between the energy of the starting reagents and the transition state—a maximum on the reaction coordinate diagram. The reagents are at 6 kJ and the transition state is at 20 kJ, so the activation energy can be calculated as follows, Ea=20kJ6kJ=14kJ.

Determine which of the two diagrams here (both for the same reaction) involves a catalyst, and identify the activation energy for the catalyzed reaction:

Diagram (b) is a catalyzed reaction with an activation energy of about 70 kJ.

### Key Concepts and Summary

Catalysts affect the rate of a chemical reaction by altering its mechanism to provide a lower activation energy, but they do not affect equilibrium.

### Chemistry End of Chapter Exercises

1. Water gas is a 1:1 mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas and is called water gas because it is formed from steam and hot carbon in the following reaction: “>H2O(g)+C(s)H2(g)+CO(g).H2O(g)+C(s)⇌H2(g)+CO(g). Methanol, a liquid fuel that could possibly replace gasoline, can be prepared from water gas and hydrogen at high temperature and pressure in the presence of a suitable catalyst. What will happen to the concentrations of H2, CO, and CH3OH at equilibrium if more catalyst is added?

2. Nitrogen and oxygen react at high temperatures. What will happen to the concentrations of N2, O2 and NO at equilibrium if a catalyst is added?

3. For each of the following pairs of reaction diagrams, identify which of the pair is catalyzed:

(a)

(b)

(c)

(d)

### Footnotes

• 1 Herrlich, P. “The Responsibility of the Scientist: What Can History Teach Us About How Scientists Should Handle Research That Has the Potential to Create Harm?” EMBO Reports 14 (2013): 759–764.
• 2 “The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1995,” Nobel Prize.org, accessed February 18, 2015, http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_priz...aureates/1995/.

### Glossary

catalyst
something that speeds up the rate of a reaction by lowering the activation energy
activation energy
the energy required to change reactants into products

7.4: Catalysis is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.