Any chemical reaction in which electrons are transferred. Addition of hydrogen or electrons is reduction, and removal of hydrogen or electrons is oxidation (originally applied to combination with oxygen but now including transfer of hydrogen or electrons). The processes always occur simultaneously: one substance is oxidized by the other, which it reduces. The conditions of the substances before and after are called oxidation states, to which numbers are given and with which calculations can be made. (Valence is a similar but not identical concept.) The chemical equation that describes the electron transfer can be written as two separate half reactions that can in theory be carried out in separate compartments of an electrolytic cell (see electrolysis), with electrons flowing through a wire connecting the two. Strong oxidizing agents include fluorine, ozone, and oxygen itself; strong reducing agents include alkali metals such as sodium and lithium.
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Redox (shorthand for reduction-oxidation reaction) describes all chemical reactions in which atoms have their oxidation number (oxidation state) changed. This can be either a simple redox process such as the oxidation of carbon to yield carbon dioxide, or the reduction of carbon by hydrogen to yield methane (CH4), or it can be a complex process such as the oxidation of sugar in the human body through a series of very complex electron transfer processes.
The term redox comes from the two concepts of reduction and oxidation. It can be explained in simple terms:
Though sufficient for many purposes, these descriptions are not precisely correct. Oxidation and reduction properly refer to a change in oxidation number—the actual transfer of electrons may never occur. Thus, oxidation is better defined as an increase in oxidation number, and reduction as a decrease in oxidation number. In practice, the transfer of electrons will always cause a change in oxidation number, but there are many reactions which are classed as "redox" even though no electron transfer occurs (such as those involving covalent bonds).
Oxidants are usually chemical substances with elements in high oxidation numbers (e.g., H2O2, MnO4−, CrO3, Cr2O72−, OsO4) or highly electronegative substances that can gain one or two extra electrons by oxidizing a substance (O, F, Cl, Br).
Substances that have the ability to reduce other substances are said to be reductive and are known as reducing agents, reductants, or reducers. Put in another way, the reductant transfers electrons to another substance, and is thus oxidized itself. And because it "donates" electrons it is also called an electron donor. Reductants in chemistry are very diverse. Metal reduction—electropositive elemental metals can be used (Li, Na, Mg, Fe, Zn, Al). These metals donate or give away electrons readily. Other kinds of reductants are hydride transfer reagents (NaBH4, LiAlH4), these reagents are widely used in organic chemistry, primarily in the reduction of carbonyl compounds to alcohols. Another useful method is reductions involving hydrogen gas (H2) with a palladium, platinum, or nickel catalyst. These catalytic reductions are primarily used in the reduction of carbon-carbon double or triple bonds.
The chemical way to look at redox processes is that the reductant transfers electrons to the oxidant. Thus, in the reaction, the reductant or reducing agent loses electrons and is oxidized and the oxidant or oxidizing agent gains electrons and is reduced. The pair of an oxidizing and reducing agent that are involved in a particular reaction is called a redox pair.
Analysing each half-reaction in isolation can often make the overall chemical process clearer. Because there is no net change in charge during a redox reaction, the number of electrons in excess in the oxidation reaction must equal the number consumed by the reduction reaction (as shown above).
Elements, even in molecular form, always have an oxidation number of zero. In the first half reaction, hydrogen is oxidized from an oxidation number of zero to an oxidation number of +1. In the second half reaction, fluorine is reduced from an oxidation number of zero to an oxidation number of −1.
When adding the reactions together the electrons cancel:
And the ions combine to form hydrogen fluoride:
For example, in the reaction between iron and copper(II) sulphate solution:
The ionic equation for this reaction is:
As two half-equations, it is seen that the iron is oxidized:
And the copper is reduced:
overall equation for the above:
Oxidation is used in a wide variety of industries such as in the production of cleaning products.
Redox reactions are the foundation of electrochemical cells.
The production of compact discs depends on a redox reaction which coats the disc with a thin layer of metal film.
Many important biological processes involve redox reactions.
Biological energy is frequently stored and released by means of redox reactions. Photosynthesis involves the reduction of carbon dioxide into sugars and the oxidation of water into molecular oxygen. The reverse reaction, respiration, oxidizes sugars to produce carbon dioxide and water. As intermediate steps, the reduced carbon compounds are used to reduce nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+), which then contributes to the creation of a proton gradient, which drives the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and is maintained by the reduction of oxygen. In animal cells, mitochondria perform similar functions. See Membrane potential article.
The term redox state is often used to describe the balance of NAD+/NADH and NADP+/NADPH in a biological system such as a cell or organ. The redox state is reflected in the balance of several sets of metabolites (e.g., lactate and pyruvate, beta-hydroxybutyrate and acetoacetate) whose interconversion is dependent on these ratios. An abnormal redox state can develop in a variety of deleterious situations, such as hypoxia, shock, and sepsis. Redox signaling involves the control of cellular processes by redox processes.