Acids and bases are important for a number reasons in inorganic chemistry.
- Many industrially useful catalytic reactions involve inorganic acids and superacids, such as zeolites, anhydrous hydrogen fluoride, and sulfated zirconia. These acids are sufficiently strong in anhydrous media that they can protonate olefins and alcohols to produce carbocations. Carbocations are key intermediates in the transformations of hydrocarbons.
- Inorganic compounds are sometimes synthesized in strongly acidic or basic media. For example, ternary metal oxides can be synthesized and crystallized in molten NaOH or KOH, which are strongly basic. Organic fluorination reactions are often done in strongly acidic media, such as anhydrous HF. Understanding the familiar chemistry of acids and bases in water helps us understand how these non-aqueous media work.
- The acidic or basic environment of metal ions affects the stability of their oxidation states. We will learn more about this in Chapter 4.
- Transition metal complexes (coordination compounds and organometallic compounds) are essentially Lewis acid-base complexes. We can understand a great deal about their stability and reactivity by considering the acid-base character of metals and ligands. We will learn about this in Chapter 5.
Solid acid catalysts, such as zeolite Y, are used to isomerize hydrocarbons in the processing of crude oil into gasoline. Edith Flanigen(below with President Barack Obama) received the 2014 National Medal of Technology for her research on the synthesis of zeolite Y.