I Must Have That Formula

From Kelly A. Belnick

The Carbon Cycle


The different forms and compounds in which carbon atoms are found are considered chemical reservoirs of carbon. These reservoirs include atmospheric carbon dioxide, calcium carbonate (in limestone), natural gas, and organic molecules, to name a few.


: Plants use carbon dioxide and energy from the sun to form carbohydrates in photosynthesis. The carbohydrates are consumed by other organisms, and are eventually broken down, or “oxidized”.


: The process of respiration. The chemical representation of how carbohydrates are broken down, or oxidized, thereby releasing energy for use by the consuming organisms. The carbon used and circulated in photosynthesis represents only a tiny portion of the available global carbon.


Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have increased by 30% since the 1800’s (industrial revolution). This increase can be explained, primarily, but several human activities. The most significant of these activities is the burning of fossil fuels.


Nitrogen Cycle

 Atmospheric nitrogen is converted to ammonia or ammonium ion by nitrogen-fixing bacteria that live in legume root nodules or in soil, or atmospheric nitrogen is converted to nitrogen oxides by lightening.



Ammonia and Ammonium are oxidized by soil bacteria first to nitrite ions and then to nitrate ions

: After plants have taken up nitrogen from the soil in the form of nitrate ions, the nitrogen is passed along the food chain. When those plants and animals die, bacteria and fungi take up and use some of the nitrogen from the plant/animal protein and other nitrogen containing molecules. The remaining nitrogen is released as ammonium ions or ammonia gas. Denitrifying bacteria convert some ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate back to nitrogen gas, which returns to the atmosphere.



Haber-Bosch Process: A technique for making ammonia from hydrogen and nitrogen, according to the first equation. To get the reactants, nitrogen gas is liquefied form air and hydrogen gas is obtained chemically from methane (natural gas). First natural gas is treated to remove sulfur-containing compounds; then the present methane is allowed to react with steam. Carbon monoxide, a product of methane reacting with steam, is converted to carbon dioxide, which allows for the additional production of nitrogen gas.


Air Pollution Formulas:



Impurities such as pyrite or iron pyrite are found in coal, when we burn coal it interacts with atmospheric oxygen to form iron oxide and sulfur dioxide (a primary air pollutant).



The primary air pollutant, sulfur dioxide, is oxidized, once in the atmosphere, to sulfur trioxide.



Sulfur trioxide dissolves it atmospheric water droplets to form sulfuric acid. Sulfuric acid is a major component of acid rain. Sulfuric acid is considered a secondary air pollutant



The generalized representation of sulfur oxides, whether it be sulfur dioxide or sulfur trioxide. The Sulfur oxides are considered primary air pollutants.



Molecules of nitrogen and atmospheric oxygen combine AT VERY HIGH TEMPERATURES to form nitric oxide, a colorless gas. The high temperatures of natural processes like lightening or those of the combustion chambers of an engine are effective in causing this conversion. Nitric oxide is a primary air pollutant



Once in the atmosphere, nitric acid reacts with additional oxygen to form nitrogen dioxide, a red-brown toxic gas that causes irritation to the eyes and respiratory system



Further reaction of nitrogen dioxide with water can produce nitric acid, another component of acid rain


Photochemical Smog

: Nitrogen oxide is an essential ingredient of photochemical smog that is produced during the high temperatures associated with combustion of vehicle’s engines.



: Initial reaction of nitrogen dioxide with sunlight


: The oxygen atom generated from the initial reaction reacts with atmospheric, diatomic oxygen, to form ozone. This is not the good, protective ozone of the stratosphere, this is the polluting ozone of the lithosphere, which traps heat and contributes to thermal inversion.


This simplified equation represents the key ingredients and products of photochemical smog. Hydrocarbons (including VOC’s), carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides from vehicle exhausts are irradiated by sunlight in the presence of oxygen gas. The resulting reactions produce a potentially dangerous mixture that include other nitrogen oxides, ozone, and irritating organic compounds, as well as carbon dioxide and water vapor.


Air Pollution Control and Prevention


: Formula that represents the process of “scrubbing” products of industrial combustion processes. Sulfur dioxide gas is removes by using an aqueous solution of calcium hydroxide, also called limewater. The sulfur dioxide reacts with the limewater to form solid calcium sulfite. Scrubbers that utilize this “wet” scrubbing method can remove up to 95% of sulfur oxides.


Another process for scrubbing that utilizes magnesium hydroxide instead of limewater. The sulfur dioxide dissolves in the water and reacts with the magnesium hydroxide to form a salt. The magnesium sulfite that is formed can be isolated and heated to regenerate sulfur dioxide. The recovered sulfur dioxide can be collected and used as a raw material in other commercial processes.


Acid Rain


: The pH of rainwater is normally slightly acidic, at about 5.6, due mainly to reaction of carbon dioxide with water to form carbonic acid.


Other natural events can contribute to the acidity of precipitation. Volcanic eruptions, forest fires, and lightning produce sulfur dioxide, sulfur trioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. These gases can react with atmospheric water in much the same way that carbon dioxide does to produce sulfurous acid, sulfuric acid, nitric acid and nitrous acid.


Ozone Formation and Destruction

As sunlight penetrates into the stratosphere, high-energy UV photons react with oxygen gas molecules, splitting them into individual oxygen atoms. These highly reactive oxygen atoms are examples of free radicals; they quickly enter into chemical reactions that allow them to attain stable arrangements of electrons. In the stratosphere free radicals can combine with oxygen molecules to form ozone. A third molecule, typically nitrogen gas or atmospheric oxygen (represented by M in the equation), carries away excess energy from the reaction but remains unchanged.


Each ozone molecule formed in the stratosphere can absorb a UV photon with a wavelength of less than 320nm. This energy absorption prevents potentially harmful UV rays from reaching the earth’s surface. The energy also causes the ozone to decomposed, producing an oxygen molecule and an oxygen free radical. These products can then carry on the cycle by replacing ozone in the protective stratospheric layer.


CFC’s (chlorofluorocarbons) are highly stable molecules in the troposphere, however, high-energy UV photons in the stratosphere split chlorine radicals from CFC’s by breaking their C-Cl bond. The freed chlorine radicals are very reactive and can participate in a series of reaction that destroy ozone by converting it to diatomic oxygen. Every chlorine radical that participates in the first reaction can later be regenerated. Thus each chlorine radical acts as a catalyst participating in not just one, but also an average of 100,000 ozone –destroying reactions. In doing so, it speeds up ozone destruction but remains unchanged.