What is Nitric Acid? - Structure, Uses & Formula

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  • 0:00 Nitric Acid: Formula &…
  • 2:03 Uses of Nitric Acid:…
  • 2:28 Uses of Nitric Acid: Aerospace
  • 3:13 Other Uses of Nitric Acid
  • 4:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nissa Garcia

Nissa has a masters degree in chemistry and has taught high school science and college level chemistry.

In addition to its uses in chemical laboratories, nitric acid is utilized in fertilizer, rocket fuel, and metallurgy. In this lesson, we will discuss nitric acid and its different uses, as well as learn about its formula and structure.

Nitric Acid: Formula & Structure

Nitric acid is a substance that we encounter more often than we think. You have encountered nitric acid if you have ever bought a bag of fertilizer or been caught in the rain. The manufacturing of fertilizer is actually the most common use of nitric acid. Perhaps more interestingly, rainwater is naturally acidic, meaning there is a small concentration of nitric acid present in it.

Nitric acid is a highly corrosive acidic substance. Its physical state is a colorless liquid, but sometimes it may have a yellowish tint. Nitric acid dissolves metals such as iron, copper, and silver. It is a strong oxidizing agent, a substance that readily accepts electrons from another substance.

Its chemical formula is HNO3, so it has one hydrogen (H) atom, one nitrogen (N) atom, and three oxygen (O) atoms.

All three oxygen (O) atoms are bonded to the nitrogen (N) atom. The nitrogen atom carries a charge of +1, and one oxygen atom carries a charge of -1. A positive charge on an atom indicates that it is less electronegative, and a negative charge on an atom indicates that it is more electronegative. Nitrogen is therefore less electronegative than the oxygen atoms because nitrogen carries a positive charge.

The structure of nitric acid is planar, meaning the chemical structure is flat. There are two major resonance forms of nitric acid. Resonance form occurs when there are multiple ways of drawing the Lewis structure of a compound. A Lewis structure is a diagram that shows how atoms are bonded together and illustrates the presence of non-bonded pairs of electrons in a compound. The double-headed arrow drawn between the two resonance structures is there to show that there is more than one way to draw the structure.

Uses of Nitric Acid: Fertilizer

Nitric acid is a very important substance that is used as a raw material to produce other substances. This makes it important in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. The most common use for nitric acid is to make fertilizer. One of the raw materials required to make an effective fertilizer is nitric acid, where it reacts with ammonia to produce ammonium nitrate.

Uses of Nitric Acid: Aerospace Engineering

Have you ever wondered what goes into rocket propellants? Rockets use different type of propellants. In liquid-fueled rockets, a liquid oxidizer is combined with fuel. Nitric acid, being a strong oxidizing agent, has been used as the oxidizer in liquid-fueled rockets.

The forms of nitrogen used as rocket propellant are usually: white fuming nitric acid (WFNA), a storable oxidizer that consists of highly concentrated nitric acid - around greater than 95% - and red fuming nitric acid (RFNA), also a storable oxidizer with a nitric acid concentration of around 84%.

Other Uses of Nitric Acid

Nitric acid is also used as a precursor to make organic nitrogen-containing compounds, such as nylon.

Nitric acid is also used to make nitrate salts like ammonium nitrate, silver nitrate, and calcium nitrate.

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