Equilibrium and reversible reactions
In the last unit we looked at the energy changes involved in chemical reactions and talked about the energy barrier which particles must overcome before they can react
In principle there is no reason why a reaction cannot overcome the energy barrier in the reverse direction and indeed this happens in many cases. For most reactions, however, the forward reaction happens nearly completely and so we do not consider the reverse process. But in some reactions the reverse reaction occurs at a reasonable rate and must be taken into consideration.
Consider the reactions:
· At the beginning of the reaction there is only A present and therefore the rate of the reaction is at its highest level. There is no B present and so the reverse reaction cannot occur.
· During the course of the reaction A gets slowly used up and B is formed. The rate of the forward reaction (A to B) decreases as the concentration of A gets smaller, and the rate of the reverse reaction (B to A) increases as the concentration of B increases.
· A situation will be reached when the rate of the forward reaction equals the rate of the reverse reaction.
· When this point is attained the concentration of the reactants and the products (A and B) cannot change any more (they are being used up at the same rate as they are being formed). We call this point the equilibrium situation. Remember the reaction has not stopped it's just that its going both forwards and backwards at the same rate. For that reason we say that it is dynamic.
The house party
To give an analogy to the situation, its like a house party.
Some of the guests inside dance and get hungry and decide to go into the garden to eat. People are still going into the house from the garden but as there are now fewer people in the garden this happens at a slower rate.
As more people fill up the house, so the number getting hungry inside the house increases until eventually the number going into the garden equals the number going into the house.
At this point the total number of people in the house doesn't change but guests are still entering and leaving so the actual people in the house and garden at any one time are different.
Situation at equilibrium
Changing the conditions:
In a chemical equilibrium the amounts of reactants and products remain the same although there is constant movement in both directions. Change the conditions and you change the relative amounts of reactants and products at equilibrium.
It may take time for the system to respond but it will eventually arrive at the new equilibrium situation.
Addition of more reactants or products to the equilibrium
If we artificially add products to the equilibrium mixture then this
will be seen by the equilibrium as an unbalanced situation and reaction
will take place in the reverse direction so as to re-establish the original
Changing the conditions
This also changes the proportions of reactants and products at equilibrium.
Heat up the equilibrium (this makes more heat energy available)
The proportions of the reactants and products will change in an attempt to absorb the extra heat energy available. In other words the reaction will move towards the direction of endothermic change (heat energy is hence turned into chemical energy and the extra heat is absorbed by the system).
Reducing the temperature will have the opposite effect - the equilibrium
moves towards the direction of exothermic change and releases heat energy
to restore the original temperature.