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In Chapter 3 "Chemical Reactions", Section 3.3 "Chemical Equations", you learned that applying a small amount of heat to solid ammonium dichromate initiates a vigorous reaction that produces chromium(III) oxide, nitrogen gas, and water vapor. These are not the only products of this reaction that interest chemists, however; the reaction also releases energy in the form of heat and light. So our description of this reaction was incomplete. A complete description of a chemical reaction includes not only the identity, amount, and chemical form of the reactants and products but also the quantity of energy produced or consumed. In combustion reactions, heat is always a product; in other reactions, heat may be produced or consumed.
This chapter introduces you to thermochemistryA branch of chemistry that describes the energy changes that occur during chemical reactions., a branch of chemistry that describes the energy changes that occur during chemical reactions. In some situations, the energy produced by chemical reactions is actually of greater interest to chemists than the material products of the reaction. For example, the controlled combustion of organic molecules, primarily sugars and fats, within our cells provides the energy for physical activity, thought, and other complex chemical transformations that occur in our bodies. Similarly, our energy-intensive society extracts energy from the combustion of fossil fuels, such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas, to manufacture clothing and furniture, heat your home in winter and cool it in summer, and power the car or bus that gets you to class and to the movies. By the end of this chapter, you will know enough about thermochemistry to explain why ice cubes cool a glass of soda, how instant cold packs and hot packs work, and why swimming pools and waterbeds are heated. You will also understand what factors determine the caloric content of your diet and why even “nonpolluting” uses of fossil fuels may be affecting the environment.
Thermodynamic spontaneity. The highly exothermic and dramatic thermite reaction is thermodynamically spontaneous. Reactants of aluminum and a metal oxide, usually iron, which are stable at room temperature, are ignited either in the presence of heat or by the reaction of potassium permanganate and glycerin. The resulting products are aluminum oxide, free and molten elemental metal, and a great deal of heat, which makes this an excellent method for on-site welding. Because this reaction has its own oxygen supply, it can be used for underwater welding as well.