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Catalysts and Catalysis

Introduction to Catalysts and Energy Diagrams


A catalyst permits a different energy pathway for a chemical reaction.

A catalyst permits a different energy pathway for a chemical reaction which has a lower activation energy. The catalyst is not consumed in the chemical reaction.

Smokefoot, Wikipedia Commons

Learn what catalysts are and how they affect the activation energy and reaction rate of a chemical reaction.

Catalysts and Catalysis

A catalyst is a chemical substance that affects the rate of a chemical reaction by altering the activation energy required for the reaction to proceed. This is called catalysis. A catalyst is not consumed by the reaction and it may participate in multiple reactions at a time. The only difference between a catalyzed reaction and an uncatalyzed reaction is that the activation energy is different. There is no effect on the energy of the reactants or the products. The ΔH for the reactions is the same.

Positive and Negative Catalysts

Usually when someone refers to a catalyst, they mean a positive catalyst, which is a catalyst which speeds up the rate of a chemical reaction by lowering its activation energy. There are also negative catalysts or inhibitors, which slow the rate of a chemical reaction or make it less likely to occur.

Promoters and Catalytic Poisons

A promoter is a substance that increases the activity of catalyst. A catalytic poison is a substance that inactivates a catalyst.

How Catalysts Work

Catalysts permit an alternate mechanism for the reactants to become products, with a lower activation energy and different transition state. A catalyst may allow a reaction to proceed at a lower temperature or increase the reaction rate or selectivity. Catalysts often react with reactants to form intermediates that eventually yield the same reaction products and regenerate the catalyst. Note that the catalyst may be consumed during one of the intermediate steps, but it will be created again before the reaction is completed.

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