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Nitric acid WFNA; (White Fuming)

CAS Registry Number (CASRN):

7697-37-2 ,

Units of original limits:

ppm ,

Conc dep:

Y ,


Nitric acid WFNA; (White Fuming) ,


HNO3 ,

CAS Registry Number (CASRN):

7697-37-2 ,

SAX Number:

411VRN1TV4 ,

Units of original limits:

ppm ,

Conc dep:

Y ,

p to m:

2.57571 ,


3 ,

specific gravity:

1.5027 ,

state at 25 °C:

L ,

Molar mass (g/mol):

۶۳٫۰۱ ,

Density (g/cm3):

1.5129 ,

Melting point (°C):

−۴۲ ,

Boiling point (°C):

‎83 ,

Acidity (pKa):

1.4 ,


Nitric Acid

Nitric acid (HNO3) is an extremely important chemical used in the manufacture of fertilizers and explosives. It is made from ammonia by the Ostwald Process (developed in 1902 by the German chemist Wilhelm Ostwald, who got the Nobel Prize in 1909). This process reacts together O2 and NH3 at 850°C and 5 atmospheres pressure, with the help of Platinum and Rhodium catalysts, to make NO. This is then oxidized to NO2, which is then dissolved in water to make HNO3. The Ostwald process was discovered just in time for the First World War, and it contributed greatly to the extended length of that war. This is because previously Germany had no nitrate deposits of its own from which to make the nitric acid that was essential for the production of the explosives used in artillery shells, such as TNT and nitroglycerin. In fact, most of the nitrates were only available from guano, which is the droppings of fish-eating sea birds, and is found in large quantities on the islands off the coast of Peru. When hostilities began, the shipping routes to Germany across the Atlantic were blocked, and so the Ostwald process gave Germany the ability to carry on the war far longer than it would otherwise have been able.

Nitric acid is used to make high explosives such as TNT

100% pure, anhydrous nitric acid is a colorless anhydrous solid. What we call 'concentrated nitric acid' is actually a solution of 68% by weight HNO3 in water (16M), and is often pale yellow as a result of photochemical decomposition which gives NO2. By dissolving even more NO2 into the pure material produces red 'fuming' nitric acid, which is an extremely powerful acid and oxidizing agent using in the semiconductor industry for cleaning silicon wafers. Aqua Regia (approx. 3 vols HCl to 1 vol HNO3) contains free Cl2 and nitrosyl chloride (NOCl). This powerful acid attacks even the inert metals gold and platinum owing to the ability of Cl- to stabilize the complexes AuCl4- and PtCl62-.

An Explosive Beginning

One important use for nitric acid is the manufacture of various organic nitro compounds, especially explosives, such as trinitrotoluene (TNT), nitrocellulose, nitroglycerin, and RDX and PETN (the last two being components of Semtex). For example, nitroglycerin (the explosive component of dynamite) is made by adding nitric and sulphuric acids to glycerol under very carefully controlled conditions. Nitric acid is also used as an oxidizing agent in the manufacture of nylon.


The biggest (80%) use of nitric acid, however, is in making ammonium nitrate, NH4NO3. This is an ingredient in many gunpowder recipes, and is an important explosive in its own right, but is mainly used as an agricultural fertilizer. It is also the parent of many other nitrates (compounds containing the NO3- ion), which are very rarely found in natural rocks since their high solubility in water means any deposits simply get washed away. Although such nitrate fertilizers have provided great benefits to mankind in increasing the food yield from otherwise poor soils, they have recently received a good deal of bad press. This is again due to their high solubility, which means the excess nitrates are readily washed into streams. There, they continue their job of promoting the growth of plant life, particularly algae which reproduce unchecked to form smothering masses. The respiration of the algal masses use up the oxygen in the water, suffocating all other plant and animal life.

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