Friedrich Wilhelm Ostwald – Inventor of Ostwald Process

Friedrich Wilhelm Ostwald – Inventor of Ostwald Process

Friedrich Wilhelm Ostwald

Biography & Contributions

Wilhelm Ostwald [Friedrich Wilhelm Ostwald] was a Baltic German chemist, Nobel laureate born on September 02, 1853 – died on April 04, 1932.

Ostwald’s best-known chemistry works include catalysis, chemical equilibria, and chemical reaction velocities. He was one of the co-founders of physical chemistry. Other important works include Ostwald dilution law, Ostwald process, Ostwald ripening process, Ostwald's rule, Ostwald viscometer, Ostwald-Folin Pipette and Ostwald–Freundlich equation.

Ostwald is credited with inventing the Ostwald process. Ostwald process is used in the manufacture of nitric acid. Ostwald also did significant work on dilution theory leading to his discovery of the law of dilution which later named as Ostwald rule. He defined one mole as the molecular weight of a substance in mass grams. He studied the concept of equilibrium point in an aqueous solution in which two acids compete to form an acid-base reaction with one base.

Ostwald first recognized catalysis as the change of reaction velocity by a foreign compound, which allowed him to measure catalytic activities. He distinguished catalysis from triggering and from autocatalysis, which he considered essential to biological systems. His most famous contribution to applied chemistry was on catalytic oxidation of ammonia to nitric acid, a patented process that is still used in the industrial production of fertilizers.

Ostwald recognized that if all acids contained the same active ion, their specific chemical affinities must correspond to the number of these active ions in solution, which depended on their specific degree of dissociation at each concentration, and which could be measured through electric conductivity studies.

Ostwald process

Ostwald process involves the following mechanism

Ammonia is converted to nitric acid in 2 stages. It is oxidized by heating with oxygen in the presence of a catalyst such as platinum with 10% rhodium, to form nitric oxide and water. At the second stage, nitric oxide is oxidized again to yield nitrogen dioxide. This nitrogen dioxide gas is then readily absorbed by the water, yielding the desired product and some portion of it converted back to nitric oxide.

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