The reaction rate is the speed at which a chemical reaction occurs. The reaction rate is defined as the change in concentration of a component in the reaction with time. The speed of a reaction depends on several factors, including the concentration of reactants and the temperature at which the reaction is performed. Each reactant contributes to the speed of the reaction by a specific factor. This relationship is defined by the reaction rate law.
The rate law is an equation that describes the relationship between the concentration of reactants, A and B, and their reaction orders, m and n. The rate constant, k, relates the concentrations and orders of the reactants to the reaction rate. It is dependent on the reaction as the temperature at which the reaction is performed.
r = k [A]m[B]n for aA + bB → cC
The Arrhenius equation relates the reaction rate constant to the activation energy of a chemical reaction. The activation energy is defined as the amount of energy a chemical reaction needs in order to proceed. If a reaction does not meet this activation energy requirement, the reaction will not proceed.
The negative exponential relationship between k and the temperature indicates that as temperature increases, the value of k also increases. Since the rate constant can be determined experimentally over a range of temperatures, the activation energy can be calculated using the Arrhenius equation. By taking the natural logarithm of both sides, the Arrhenius equation is rewritten as a linear equation.
A plot of ln k vs. 1/T yields a straight line with a slope equal to -Ea/R and a y-intercept of ln A. Since the ideal gas constant, R, is known, Ea can be determined graphically using a series of k values at different temperatures.
Catalysts and Activation Energy
Some chemical reactions have a sufficiently large activation energy that makes the reaction proceed slowly, if at all. The decomposition reaction of hydrogen peroxide into oxygen and water occurs spontaneously, but it occurs at an incredibly slow rate. One way to overcome this initial barrier is to supply energy in the form of heat. However, this is not always ideal as excessive heat may affect the stability of the products or reactants or may facilitate side reactions.
The activation energy for chemical reactions can be altered using catalysts. A catalyst lowers the activation energy of a chemical reaction, but it is not consumed by the reaction. In other words, a catalyst facilitates the chemical reaction by making it easier to overcome the critical activation energy requirement. In the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide, the addition of iron nitrate lowers the activation energy and allows the reaction to proceed at a faster rate. However, it is important to note that while a catalyst may affect the rate of a reaction, a catalyst DOES NOT change the amount of product produced by the reaction.
- Kotz, J.C., Treichel Jr, P.M., Townsend, J.R. (2012). Chemistry and Chemical Reactivity. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.
- Silberberg, M.S. (2009). Chemistry: The Molecular Nature of Matter and Change. Boston, MA: McGraw Hill.