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Phosphoric acid, also known as orthophosphoric acid or phosphoric(V) acid, is a mineral (inorganic) acid having the chemical formula H3PO4. Orthophosphoric acid molecules can combine with themselves to form a variety of compounds which are also referred to as phosphoric acids, but in a more general way. The term phosphoric acid can also refer to a chemical or reagent consisting of phosphoric acids, usually mostly orthophosphoric acid.
Most people and even chemists refer to orthophosphoric acid as phosphoric acid, which is the IUPAC name for this compound. The prefix ortho is used to distinguish the acid from other phosphoric acids, called polyphosphoric acids. Orthophosphoric acid is a non-toxic, inorganic, rather weak triprotic acid, which, when pure, is a solid at room temperature and pressure. The chemical structure of orthophosphoric acid is shown above in the data table. Orthophosphoric acid is a very polar molecule; therefore it is highly soluble in water. The oxidation state of phosphorus (P) in ortho- and other phosphoric acids is +5; the oxidation state of all the oxygen atoms (O) is -2 and all the hydrogen atoms (H) is +1. Triprotic means that an orthophosphoric acid molecule can dissociate up to three times, giving up an H+ each time, which typically combines with a water molecule, H2O, as shown in these reactions:
The anion after the first dissociation, H2PO4–, is the dihydrogen phosphate anion. The anion after the second dissociation, HPO42–, is the hydrogen phosphate anion. The anion after the third dissociation, PO43–, is the phosphate or orthophosphate anion. For each of the dissociation reactions shown above, there is a separate acid dissociation constant, called Ka1, Ka2, and Ka3 given at 25°C. Associated with these three dissociation constants are corresponding pKa1=2.12 , pKa2=7.21 , and pKa3=12.67 values at 25°C. Even though all three hydrogen (H ) atoms are equivalent on an orthophosphoric acid molecule, the successive Ka values differ since it is energetically less favorable to lose another H+ if one (or more) has already been lost and the molecule/ion is more negatively-charged.
Because the triprotic dissociation of orthophosphoric acid, the fact that its conjugate bases (the phosphates mentioned above) cover a wide pH range, and, because phosphoric acid/phosphate solutions are, in general, non-toxic, mixtures of these types of phosphates are often used as buffering agents or to make buffer solutions, where the desired pH depends on the proportions of the phosphates in the mixtures. Similarly, the non-toxic, anion salts of triprotic organic citric acid are also often used to make buffers. Phosphates are found pervasively in biology, especially in the compounds derived from phosphorylated sugars, such as DNA, RNA, and adenosine triphosphate (ATP). There is a separate article on phosphate as an anion or its salts.
Upon heating orthophosphoric acid, condensation of the phosphoric units can be induced by driving off the water formed from condensation. When one molecule of water has been removed for each two molecules of phosphoric acid, the result is pyrophosphoric acid (H4P2O7). When an average of one molecule of water per phosphoric unit has been driven off, the resulting substance is a glassy solid having an empirical formula of HPO3 and is called metaphosphoric acid. Metaphosphoric acid is a singly anhydrous version of orthophosphoic acid and is sometimes used as a water- or moisture-absorbing reagent. Further dehydrating is very difficult, and can be accomplished only by means of an extremely strong desiccant (and not by heating alone). It produces phosphoric anhydride, which has an empirical formula P2O5, although an actual molecule has a chemical formula of P4O10. Phosphoric anhydride is a solid, which is very strongly moisture-absorbing and is used as a desiccant.
|[A] (mol/L)||pH||[H3PO4]/[A] (%)||[H2PO4−]/[A] (%)||[HPO42−]/[A] (%)||[PO43−]/[A] (%)|
For large acid concentrations, the solution is mainly composed of H3PO4. For [A] = 10−2, the pH is closed to pKa1, giving an equimolar mixture of H3PO4 and H2PO4−. For [A] below 10−3, the solution is mainly composed of H2PO4− with [HPO42−] becoming non negligible for very dilute solutions. [PO43−] is always negligible.
On the other hand, a study funded by Pepsi suggests that low intake of phosphorus leads to lower bone density. The study does not examine the effect of phosphoric acid, which binds with magnesium and calcium in the digestive tract to form salts that are not absorbed, but, rather, it studies general phosphorus intake.
However, a well-controlled clinical study by Heaney and Rafferty using calcium-balance methods found no impact of carbonated soft drinks containing phosphoric acid on calcium excretion. The study compared the impact of water, milk, and various soft drinks (two with caffeine and two without; two with phosphoric acid and two with citric acid) on the calcium balance of 20- to 40-year-old women who customarily consumed ~3 or more cups (680 ml) of a carbonated soft drink per day. They found that, relative to water, only milk and the two caffeine-containing soft drinks increased urinary calcium, and that the calcium loss associated with the caffeinated soft drink consumption was about equal to that previously found for caffeine alone. Phosphoric acid without caffeine had no impact on urine calcium, nor did it augment the urinary calcium loss related to caffeine. Because studies have shown that the effect of caffeine is compensated for by reduced calcium losses later in the day, Heaney and Rafferty concluded that the net effect of carbonated beverages – including those with caffeine and phosphoric acid - is negligible, and that the skeletal effects of carbonated soft drink consumption are likely due primarily to milk displacement.
Other chemicals such as caffeine (also a significant component of popular common cola drinks) were also suspected as possible contributors to low bone density, due to the known effect of caffeine on calciuria. One other study, comprised of 30 women over the course of a week, suggests that phosphoric acid in colas has no such effect, and postulates that caffeine has only a temporary effect, which is later reversed. The authors of this study conclude that the skeletal effects of carbonated beverage consumption are likely due primarily to milk displacement. (Another possible confounding factor may be an association between high soft drink consumption and sedentary lifestyle.)
Cola consumption has also been linked to chronic kidney disease and kidney stones through medical research. This study differentiated between the effects of cola (generally contains phosphoric acid), non-cola carbonated beverages (substitute citric acid) and coffee (control for caffeine), and found that drinking 2 or more colas per day more than doubled the incidence of kidney disease.
Thermal phosphoric acid: This very pure phosphoric acid is obtained by burning elemental phosphorus to produce phosphorus pentoxide and dissolving the product in dilute phosphoric acid. This produces a very pure phosphoric acid, since most impurities present in the rock have been removed when extracting phosphorus from the rock in a furnace. The end result is food-grade, thermal phosphoric acid; however, for critical applications, additional processing to remove arsenic compounds may be needed.
The simplified reaction is:
Wet-process acid can be purified by removing fluorine to produce animal-grade phosphoric acid, or by solvent extraction and arsenic removal to produce food-grade phosphoric acid.
Kiln Phosphoric Acid; Kiln Phosphoric Acid (KPA) process technology is the most recent technology. Called the “Improved Hard Process”, this technology will both make low grade phosphate rock reserves commercially viable and will increase the P2O5 recovery from existing phosphate reserves. This will significantly extend the commercial viability phosphate reserves.
Phosphoric acid is used as a cleaner by construction trades to remove mineral deposits, cementitious smears, and hard water stains. It is also used as an ingredient in some household cleaners aimed at similar cleaning tasks.
Phosphoric acid is also used in hydroponics pH solutions to lower the pH of nutrient solutions. While other types of acids can be used, phosphorus is a nutrient used by plants, especially during flowering, making phosphoric acid particularly desirable. General Hydroponics pH Down liquid solution contains phosphoric acid in addition to citric acid and ammonium bisulfate with buffers to maintain a stable pH in the nutrient reservoir.
Phosphoric acid is used as a pH adjuster in cosmetics and skin-care products.
Phosphoric acid is used as a chemical oxidizing agent for activated carbon production.
Phosphoric acid is also used for High Pressure Liquid Chromotography.