What is an esterification lab?


Quick Answer

An esterification lab creates esters from the reaction between alcohols and carboxylic acids. Esters are commonly used as fragrances in things like perfumes, candles and oils.

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Full Answer

In an esterification lab, esters are made when carboxylic acids are heated in the presence of alcohol with an acid catalyst. A carboxylic acid contains a -COOH group and, in an ester, the hydrogen of this group is replaced with a hydrocarbon group from the alcohol. Different combinations of carboxylic acids and alcohols produce the different smells that are the reason for making an ester.

The process is usually slow and reversible. The carboxylic acid and the alcohol of choice can be mixed together and heated with a small amount of concentrated sulphuric acid. The ester is distilled from the mixture. A small amount of carboxylic acid and alcohol can be warmed in a test tube with a few drops of concentrated sulphuric acid. This produces a small amount of ester to make it easier to determine the desired smell. The major components of many flavors and fragrances are developed in esterification labs. As such, these labs are often contracted by corporations for mass-market purposes. Esterification labs done in high school or college are usually of the small test tube variety meant for a shorter time periods and teaching purposes.

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