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Composition of air

The atmosphere is a layer of air containing mixture of several gases. This mixture composition
varies according to time and place.

The composition of water vapour varies from 0-5%, depending on the humidity of air.

Fractional distillation to separate components of air

Air is the main source of oxygen, nitrogen, and noble gases.

These are separated by first liquefying the air and then separating the components of liquid air by
fractional distillation.

1. air is filtered to remove dust

2. any carbon dioxide or water vapour in the air must be removed, otherwise when air is cooled,
they would solidify and block up the pipes.
3. Carbon dioxide gas is removed by bubbling the air through an alkali like sodium hydroxide.
1. 2NaOH + CO2 --> Na2CO3 + H2O
4. Water is removed in a drying tower with a drying agent such as silica gel.
5. The air is then compressed to about 200 atmospheric pressure. On compression, a gas becomes
hotter. The compressed air is then suddenly allowed to expand through a fine nozzle and it

becomes colder. This cold air is returned to the compressor, and on its way, it helps to cool more
incoming air. This process of compression and expansion is continued until the temperature
drops to -200oC (73K). At this temperature, all the gases except neon and helium would have
been liquefied.
6. The liquid air is pale blue because of the presence of liquid oxygen. It is passed into a
fractionating tower, where it is slowly warmed up. This first gas to boil off is nitrogen (-196 oC).
7. When all the nitrogen has been given off, the temperature rises to -186 oC and argon gas is boiled
8. Oxygen is next, at -183oC. The gases are boiled off separately and are collected and stored under
pressure in cylinders.

Percentage Composition of Oxygen in Air

A known volume of air is passed through tube with burning copper powder and oxygen in air will
react with hot copper powder to produce black copper oxide:

2Cu(s) + O2(g) --> 2CuO(s)

If oxygen is depleted, the readings on both syringes will be steady and the reaction has
completed. Hence, to find the volume of oxygen in air collected in syringe:

Volume of O2 = Initial volume of air Final volume of air

For instance, the initial volume of air in one syringe is 80cm 3 and the final volume is 64cm3.
Hence, the percentage volume of O2 in air is:

A. Respiration
Oxygen is essential for all plant and animal life on earth. The process by which living organisms produce
energy from their food is called respiration. Oxygen is essential for this process:

sugar + oxygen ---> carbon dioxide + water + energy

When we breathe in, we take air into our lungs.

oxygen from the air dissolves in the blood in our lungs

the dissolved oxygen is then taken to the cells in all parts of our body

oxygen reacts with sugars in the cells to produce energy

B. Combustion/Burning
3 things are required for combustion

1. fuel
2. heat
3. oxygen

MOST substances react with O2 to in exothermic reaction, which is called combustion. If flames
are produced during combustion, its called burning.

ALL carbon compounds burn in O2 to produce CO2 while ALL hydrogen containing compounds
burn in O2 to produce H2O.

When adequate supply of oxygen is available during burning, it will create a complete
combustion. If otherwise, the combustion is incomplete.

E.g. CH4(g) + 2O2(g) --> CO2(g) + 2H2O(g), makes up a complete combustion

Test for combustion

When air hole is closed, air cannot enter supplying oxygen, and hence soot (unburnt carbon) and
CO is produced from incomplete hydrocarbon gas combustion.

As a result, flame is yellow due to glowing specks of hot soot in heat and the flame is not hot.

When air hole is opened, air supplies plenty of oxygen, allowing complete combustion.

Uses of Oxugen

As rocket fuel

In steel making, to burn off impurities

In oxy-acetyline cutting and welding

In oxygen tanks for deep sea divers and mountain climbers to provide oxygen

For respiration for most animals

Used as oxygen tents in hospital to aid patients with respiratory problems

Oxides: oxygen combined with elements

Oxygen is a reactive gas and will combine directly with most metals and non-metals to form oxides
Reaction with metals

Most metals, except silver and gold, combine directly with oxygen to form metal oxides.

Most metal oxides are basic oxides

those that dissolve in water form alkalis

eg sodium + oxygen --> sodium oxide

Reaction with non-metals

non-metals like carbon, sulphur and phosphorus burn in oxygen to form acidic oxides

eg carbon + oxygen --> carbon dioxide

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Many elements burn in oxygen with colored flames to produce the corresponding oxide.
Across the periodic table, the properties of the oxides of these elements change from basic to acidic in
nature (metals to non-metals)

Basic oxides are formed by metals in Groups I, II, and III.

They are generally ionic oxides and are white solids.
Metal oxides





burns with a lilacpotassium 4K + O2 -->

colored flame and
forms a white smoke



burns with a yellowcolored flame

forming a white

4Na + O2 -->



burns with a brilliant magnesiu

white-colored flame m oxide
forming a white

2Mg + O2 -->


glows red hot and

burns with white

iron(II) and 3Fe + 2O2 -->




just glows red hot,

and when cooled is
covered with a black
coating of the oxide





2Cu + O2 -->

pH in

Non-metal oxides





pH in

phosphoru - white phosphorus: phosphorus(

catches fire & white V) oxide
- red phosphorus:
slower reaction

P4 + 5O2 -->


S + O2 --> 2O2

burns easily with a sulphur

blue flame,
producing a

pungent gas

glows red, but the

reaction is slow. a
colorless gas is


C + O2 --> CO2

The non-metals in Groups IV, V, VI and VII form covalent oxides.

Such oxides are mainly gases or liquids but giant covalent oxides like silicon dioxide are solids
Aluminium oxide is both basic and covalent and is therefore an amphoteric oxide.

Air Pollution: Harmful substances in the air

Main Pollutant gases:
1) carbon monoxide, CO
Comes from:
- When fuels like petrol and diesel are burnt in an internal combustion engine, the amount of oxygen
present is limited, so carbon monoxide gas is formed, instead of carbon dioxide gas.
- Unburnt hydrocarbons
- forest fires
- Combines with haemoglobin when inhaled, which produces carboxyhaemoglobin that reduces efficiency
of haemoglobin to transport oxygen.
- Cells then die.

- Install catalytic converters in cars
- Reduce number of cars on road
- Create efficient engines in cars to ensure complete hydrocarbon combustion

2) sulphur dioxide, SO2

Comes from:
- Combustion of fossil fuels containing sulphur impurities

- volcanic eruptions

- Lung irritant
- eye irritant
- acid rain
- Prevent using fuels containing sulphur impurities, e.g. coal
- Reduce the sulphur impurities inside fossil fuels
- Spray exhaust gases from factories with water/hydrated CaO/alkalis to absorb sulphur dioxide before its
released into the atmosphere
- Add CaO to soil and rivers to neutralize acid rain

3) oxides of nitrogen, NO
Comes from:
- Lightning activity
- forest fires
- internal combustion engines (as nitrogen oxides are formed by oxygen and nitrogen under high
temperature) --> Poisonous oxides of nitrogen are also formed from the electrical spark which passes
through the air/petrol mixture.
- power stations
- Eutrophication
- lung damage
- acid rain

- Install catalytic converters in cars
- Design car engines which run at lower temperatures
Notes: Reactions of oxides of sulphur and nitrogen
The oxides of sulphur and nitrogen are acidic gases and are water-soluble. They dissolve to form acid
rain.The main source of these pollutant gases is from the burning of fuels, especially those in petrol and
diesel engines.

All oils and fuels contain sulphur, and when they are burnt, sulphur dioxide gas is formed. In power
stations, large quantities of this gas are produced, which dissolve in water in the atmosphere to form
sulphurous acid (sulphuric acid)
SO2 (g) + H2O (l) --> H2SO3 (aq)

4) Methane
Comes from:
- Decomposition of vegetable matter
- rice field
- cattle ranching
- natural gas
- mines
- highly flammable
- greenhouse gas
- Cattle and other ruminant animals should be given improved diet
- Animal manure and rotting vegetation can be used as biomass fuel

5) Unburnt hydrocarbons
Comes from:
- Internal combustion engines
- Because of the limited supply of air inside the engines some of it remains unburnt and escapes
as gaseous hydrocarbons.
- Carcinogenic
- forms photochemical smog
- can act as greenhouse gases contributing to global warming.
- Install catalytic converters in cars
- Reduce number of cars on road
- Create efficient engines in cars to ensure complete hydrocarbon combustion

6) Ozone
Comes from:
- It is formed when an electrical spark passes through air. This is because it reacts with the UV radiation
in sunlight to produce a 'photochemical smog'.
- It is an allotrope (two/three different forms of a pure element) of oxygen having structural formula O3
having characteristic odour.
- High up in the atmosphere ozone is beneficial as it helps to filter out high levels of UV radiation
- It reacts with unburnt hydrocarbons to form photochemical smog that causes headache, eye, nose and
throat irritation.
- It corrodes and kills plants and trees
- Dont use CFCs/replace it with HCFCs which destroys faster.

Notes: Catalytic converters

- One way to reduce pollution from cars is to fit catalytic converters to our exhausts.
- Inside the converter is a special metal-like platinum which acts as a catalyst.
- It converts the poisonous exhaust gases of CO and oxides of nitrogen into harmless gases like carbon
dioxide and nitrogen.
- It does this by transferring oxygen atoms from the oxides of nitrogen to the CO.
2CO (g) + 2NO (g) --> 2CO2 (g) + N2 (g)

7) Dust and Smoke

- The larger, heavier dust particles will settle quickly but the smaller particles may remain suspended in
the air for a long time.
Comes from:
- building work
- mining activities
- forest fires
- incomplete combustion of fuels.

- irritate lungs, causing bronchitis and other lung-related diseases.

8) Lead compounds
Comes from:
- Combustion of leaded petrol in car engines
- lead compounds are added to petrol to make it heavier so that it does not ignite too soon.
- when breathed in can build up inside the body and are toxic and poisonous
- Causes lead poisoning which leads to brain damage.

Natural compounds of carbon

Carbon Cycle

- Carbon dioxide is produced mainly by respiration. Here, sugars such as glucose are converted into

carbon dioxide and water, giving out energy (exothermic)

Respiration of glucose equation:

- Carbon dioxide is also produced by combustion of fuels, in factories, and in the home
- The carbon dioxide is then absorbed by plants, by photosynthesis. Energy is absorbed (endothermic)
from the sun, and used to build up simple sugars.
Photosynthesis equation:

- Animals eat plants, and in turn, they themselves get eaten by other animals. So the carbon originally in
the atmosphere ends up in every living plant and animal. Upon death, the carbon is released by bacteries
and fungi, to return to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.
The cycle is then repeated.