Oxidizing agents refer to the reactants in oxidation-reduction reactions involving a transfer of electrons between the reacting species in order to form a product. There exist various processes that involve oxidizing agents, including chemical redox reactions such as rusting/corrosion and combustion.
What are Oxidizing Agents?
The species known as oxidizing agents are also referred to as oxidizers or oxidants. They possess a tendency to gain electrons and get reduced in a chemical reaction. This is the reason why they’re also identified as electron acceptors.
- Oxidizing agents are normally in their highest possible oxidation states and therefore, they strongly tend to gain electrons and undergo reduction. Some common examples of oxidizing agents include halogens such and chlorine and fluorine, nitric acid, and potassium nitrate.
- From the concepts established above, it can be understood that Ions, Atoms, and molecules which tend to have a strong affinity towards electrons are considered to be good oxidizers or oxidizing agents.
- Elemental fluorine is said to be the strongest elemental oxidizing agent. This is perhaps due to the fact that fluorine is the most electronegative element in the modern periodic table, and therefore exerts the strongest attractive force on electrons amongst all the elements.
- In fact, the oxidizing power of diatomic fluorine (F2) is strong enough to cause metals such as asbestos and quartz, and even molecules such as water, to burst into flames when exposed to it.
- A few other examples of elemental oxidizing agents include diatomic oxygen (O2), diatomic chlorine (Cl2), and ozone (O3). These oxidizers are the elemental forms of the second and the third most electronegative elements (oxygen and chlorine respectively), making them good electron acceptors.
- Some compounds that exhibit large oxidation states can also be considered as good oxidizing agents. Ionic examples include the permanganate ion, the chromate ion, and the dichromate ion. Acidic examples of good oxidizers include nitric acid, perchloric acid, and sulfuric acid. The electronegativity of the molecules increases with the increase in the oxidation states of the atoms, increasing their ability to oxidize other substances.
Examples of Oxidizing Agents
A few examples of good oxidizing agents are listed below along with a brief description of their properties.
- Halogens- The group 17 elements of the periodic table are collectively referred to as the Halogens. They are said to have a strong ability to gain electrons, attributed to their high electronegativities when compared to elements from other groups. This implies that they have the ability to easily attract electrons towards their respective nuclei. Examples of the halogens that are good oxidizing agents include iodine, bromine, chlorine, and fluorine. Fluorine is said to be the strongest elemental oxidizing agent due to its highest electronegativity, as discussed earlier.
- Oxygen– Oxygen is the element corresponding to the atomic number 8 and is denoted by the symbol ‘O’. It belongs to the chalcogen group of the periodic table and is a highly reactive non- metal with good oxidizing properties. In general, metals tend to form metal oxides by reacting with the atmospheric oxygen, due to the strong oxidizing power of oxygen. Oxygen is observed to be a part of a majority of combustion reactions.
- Hydrogen peroxide– Hydrogen peroxide is the chemical compound having formula H2O2. It appears to the human eye as a colorless liquid which has a greater viscosity than water. Hydrogen peroxide is the simplest compound having a peroxide functional group with an oxygen-oxygen single bond. It finds its uses as a weak oxidizing agent, disinfectant, and a bleaching agent.
Many other oxidizing agents are commonly used industrially as well as in the day to day lives of humans. Examples include household bleach (NaClO), Potassium Nitrate (KNO3), and Sulfuric acid (H2SO4).
Applications of Oxidizing Agents
Oxidizing agents have numerous commercial and industrial applications. A few of these applications are listed below.
- Bleaching of fabrics.
- Purification of water.
- Combustion of fuel involves the use of an oxidizing agent.
- Storage of energy in batteries.
- Vulcanization of rubber (increasing the strength and the elasticity of rubber).
- Oxidizing agents are also vital to many biological processes such as metabolism and photosynthesis.
Many organisms make use of electron acceptors, or oxidizers, to collect energy from the redox reactions such as in the process of hydrolysis of glucose. To learn more about oxidizing agents and the part they play in oxidation-reduction reactions, register with BYJU’S and download the mobile application on your smartphone.