Chemistry » Chemical Reactions and Stoichiometry » Classifying Chemical Reactions

Redox Reactions Continued

Defining Redox Reactions

Using the oxidation number concept, an all-inclusive definition of redox reaction has been established. Oxidation-reduction (redox) reactions are those in which one or more elements involved undergo a change in oxidation number. (While the vast majority of redox reactions involve changes in oxidation number for two or more elements, a few interesting exceptions to this rule do exist. We will look at an example later.)


Definitions for the complementary processes of this reaction class are correspondingly revised as shown here (also see figure above):

\(\textbf{oxidation} = \text{increase in oxidation number}\)

\(\textbf{reduction} = \text{decrease in oxidation number}\)

Returning to the reactions used to introduce this topic, they may now both be identified as redox processes. In the reaction between sodium and chlorine to yield sodium chloride, sodium is oxidized (its oxidation number increases from 0 in Na to +1 in NaCl) and chlorine is reduced (its oxidation number decreases from 0 in Cl2 to −1 in NaCl).

In the reaction between molecular hydrogen and chlorine, hydrogen is oxidized (its oxidation number increases from 0 in H2 to +1 in HCl) and chlorine is reduced (its oxidation number decreases from 0 in Cl2 to −1 in HCl).

Combustion Reactions

Several subclasses of redox reactions are recognized, including combustion reactions in which the reductant (also called a fuel) and oxidant (often, but not necessarily, molecular oxygen) react vigorously and produce significant amounts of heat, and often light, in the form of a flame.

Solid rocket-fuel reactions such as the one depicted in the first lesson are combustion processes. A typical propellant reaction in which solid aluminum is oxidized by ammonium perchlorate is represented by this equation:

\(\mathrm{10Al}(s) + \mathrm{6NH_4ClO_4}(s) \longrightarrow \mathrm{4Al_2O_3}(s) + \mathrm{2AlCl_3}(s) + \mathrm{12H_2O}(g) + \mathrm{3N_2}(g)\)

2014 Video Showing NASA’s Tests on Model of Powerful New Rocket

You may watch the brief video below by NASA’s Marshall Center showing the test firing of a small-scale, prototype, hybrid rocket engine planned for use in the new Space Launch System being developed by NASA. The first engines firing at 3 s (green flame) use a liquid fuel/oxidant mixture, and the second, more powerful engines firing at 4 s (yellow flame) use a solid mixture.

Single-Displacement Reactions

Single-displacement (replacement) reactions are redox reactions in which an ion in solution is displaced (or replaced) via the oxidation of a metallic element. One common example of this type of reaction is the acid oxidation of certain metals:

\(\mathrm{Zn}(s) + \mathrm{2HCl}(aq) \longrightarrow \mathrm{ZnCl_2}(aq) + \mathrm{H_2}(g)\)

Metallic elements may also be oxidized by solutions of other metal salts; for example:

\(\mathrm{Cu}(s) + \mathrm{2AgNO_3}(aq) \longrightarrow \mathrm{Cu(NO_3)_2}(aq) + \mathrm{2Ag}(s)\)

This reaction may be observed by placing copper wire in a solution containing a dissolved silver salt. Silver ions in solution are reduced to elemental silver at the surface of the copper wire, and the resulting Cu2+ ions dissolve in the solution to yield a characteristic blue color (see image below).


(a) A copper wire is shown next to a solution containing silver(I) ions. (b) Displacement of dissolved silver ions by copper ions results in (c) accumulation of gray-colored silver metal on the wire and development of a blue color in the solution, due to dissolved copper ions. Image credit: modification of work by Mark Ott

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