The Decomposition of Hydrogen Peroxide

944 words | 4 page(s)

Hydrogen peroxide, or H2O2, is a strong oxidizer and a weak acid, which means that it participates in reduction-oxidation (redox) reactions, accepting an electron from another substance and itself being therefore “reduced.” This substance, so similar in chemical composition to water (H2O), has intriguing properties that make it highly useful, particularly when it undergoes decomposition, i.e., when it is reduced in a redox reaction. This paper first describes the science of how H2O2 decomposes. Then it presents a brief summary of the impact of this decomposition on the impact of this decomposition process in the modern world. The paper then concludes with a brief summary of these impacts and the importance of H2O2 decomposition in our world today.

The Science of Hydrogen Peroxide Decomposition
Hydrogen peroxide is not a stable compound in ordinary conditions. When it decomposes in the most general sense, two molecules of H2O2 combine to produce two molecules of water and one molecule of oxygen as shown here:

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Hydrogen peroxide decomposes readily in the presence of many metals or metallic compounds such as silver, platinum, and manganese dioxide (Kennedy). As shown in the reaction equation, H2O2 decomposition results in water and oxygen being released. Because of the creation of oxygen, this means that H2O2 decomposition in large (i.e., industrial-sized) amounts can result in highly flammable or even explosive situations. H2O2 is one of the most powerful oxidizers known. Hydrogen peroxide can decompose in other ways as well depending on the circumstances. For example, it can be used to create other types of peroxide salts, and it can be used in acidic solutions to reduce metals, producing both hydrogen gas and water.

The Impact of Hydrogen Peroxide Decomposition on Modern Life
Possibly the most common use of H2O2 in industrial applications is as a bleaching agent in the paper and pulp industries (Schmidt, Gaikowski, & Gingerich ). The decomposition of H2O2 whitens as a result of producing oxygen. The second most important use of H2O2 is its ability to clean water of pollutants (Schmidt, Gaikowski, & Gingerich ). Since many of the biological processes of cleaning water end up removing oxygen from the system, when H2O2 is added and allowed to decompose, the result is the addition of oxygen molecules back in. This provides an aeration process that is useful in wastewater processing. A similar process also assists in maintaining healthy stock in fisheries and other aquaculture systems (Schmidt, Gaikowski, & Gingerich ).

The uses of H2O2 decomposition go far beyond simple restoration of clean water and elimination of pollutants, however. The medical applications of H2O2 decomposition include, as an example, a method of oxidation of the body through intravenous therapy (Kennedy). H2O2 is added to the blood via intravenous methods. Once in the blood the liver enzyme catalase prompts decomposition and thus the addition of oxygen to the bloodstream. Kennedy noted that oxygenating the blood kills anaerobic bacteria and thus reduces infection. At the same time, the decomposition process also helps transform biological wastes just as it does industrial wastes, turning the waste products into inert substances the body can easily process (Kennedy). In fact, hydrogen peroxide is so useful that the body produces it constantly in certain types of white blood cells (Wake Forest University).

Hydrogen peroxide has a host of other uses in the modern world. For example, the American Energy Independence organization asserted that the exogenic (heat generating) aspect of the decomposition reaction is also useful. When H2O2 is decomposed in extremely concentrated situations, this results in the production of steam (rather than water) and that in turn makes the decomposition process a potential rocket fuel (American Energy Independence.com). The same organization noted that in 1999 the Liverpool University had developed a mechanism for producing H2O2 in an electrochemical reaction that makes the substance practical for use in fuel cells and the production of electrical energy (American Energy Indepenence.com).

Hydrogen peroxide has more individual uses too. For example, Harper noted that there are many uses of H2O2 in household applications ranging from acting as a disinfectant for minor wounds, whitening clothes without the use of bleach, and acting as an excellent-and nonpolluting-household cleanser (Harper). It can also help whiten teeth, though it generally should not be swallowed, only used as a mouth rinse (Harper).

Summary and Conclusion
Hydrogen peroxide may be one of the more underappreciated chemical compounds. The mechanism of its decomposition, which produces water and oxygen, also releases heat energy, making it useful in an astonishing variety of ways, to make our water clean, fisheries and aquaculture cost-effective, produce non-polluting electrical energy, generate rocket thrust, assist the body in fighting infections, and keep our houses clean and healthful. The impact of this substance on our social, cultural, and medical well-being cannot be denied. In addition to being effective, environmentally it is less damaging than many other solutions to these problems.

  • American Energy Independence.com “Hydrogen Peroxide” Energy Independence. No date. Web. 2 Apr. 2014.
  • Harper, A. “20 Benefits and Uses for Hydrogen Peroxide.” Waking Times. 20 June 2013. Web. 2 Apr. 2014. < http://www.wakingtimes.com>
  • Kennedy, R. “Intravenous Hydrogen Peroxide Therapy (IV H2O2)” The Doctor’s Medical Library. No Date. Web. 2 Apr. 2014. < http://www.medical-library.net>
  • Schmidt, L. J., Gaikowski, M. P., & Gingerich, W. H. “Environmental Assessment for the Use of Hydrogen Peroxide in Aquaculture for Treating External Fungal and Bacterial Diseases of Cultured Fish and Fish Eggs.” U. S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Division, Lacross, WI: (8 Jun 2006). Web. 2 Apr. 2014. < http://www.fda.gov>
  • Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. “Hydrogen Peroxide Has A Complex Role In Cell Health.” ScienceDaily. 4 January 2008. Web. 2 Apr. 2014. www.sciencedaily.com

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