What Is an Oxidizing Agent?

reducingoxidizingdiagram.png

Common oxidizing agents

Common reducing agents

O2

H2

O3

CO

F2

Fe

Br2

Zn

H2SO4

Li

Halogen metals (halogen metals tend to gain an electron to get to noble gas configuration)

Alkali metals (alkali metals tend to lose an electron to get to noble gas configuration)

Applications

Oxidizing and reducing agents are important in industrial applications. They are used in processes such as purifying water, bleaching fabrics, and storing energy (such as in batteries and gasoline). Oxidizing and reducing agents are especially crucial in biological processes such as metabolism and photosynthesis. For example, organisms use electron acceptors such as NAD+ to harvest energy from redox reactions as in the hydrolysis of glucose:

\[C_6H_{12}O_6 + 2ADP + 2P + 2NAD^+ \rightarrow 2CH_3COCO_2H + 2ATP + 2NADH\]

All combustion reactions are also examples of redox reactions. A combustion reaction occurs when a substance reacts with oxygen to create heat. One example is the combustion of octane, the principle component of gasoline:

\[2 C_8H_{18} (l) + 25 O_2 (g) \rightarrow 16 CO_2 (g) + 18 H_2O (g)\]

Combustion reactions are a major source of energy for modern industry.

Summary

Oxidizing Agents Reducing Agents
Oxidation State Decreases Increases
# of Electrons Gained Lost
Substance is... Reduced Oxidized

By looking at each element's oxidation state on the reactant side of a chemical equation compared with the same element's oxidation state on the product side, one can determine if the element is reduced or oxidized, and can therefore identify the oxidizing and reducing agents of a chemical reaction.

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