Before we explore how hydrogen peroxide is made, let’s look at what it is. Hydrogen peroxide (chemical symbol H2O2 – it’s basically water with an extra oxygen atom!) is a weakly acidic, colourless liquid which can easily be mixed with water. It can also be pale blue in its pure form, although as it is an unstable compound and decomposes when exposed to heat, it is usually kept in a slightly acidic solution in the presence of a stabiliser.
How Is Hydrogen Peroxide Made?
Over 99% of the world’s hydrogen peroxide is manufactured by an autoxidation process. While the overall equation for this process is fairly simple (H2 + O2 -> H2O2), there is obviously a lot more to it than that!
Hydrogen peroxide is made through the catalysis of the reaction of hydrogen (H2) with atmospheric oxygen (O2) to produce hydrogen peroxide (H2O2).
The Step-by-Step Process Of Making Hydrogen Peroxide
To put it in more complex terms, hydrogen peroxide is generally made according to this four-step process:
- Hydrogenation on a palladium catalyst creates a reaction between hydrogen and anthraquinone which produces anthrahydroquinone.
- The palladium catalyst is filtered out of the solution.
- Oxidation takes place by blowing air through the solution, forming the hydrogen peroxide.
- The hydrogen peroxide is extracted, purified, and then concentrated by vacuum distillation.
Hydrogen peroxide also occurs naturally in surface and groundwater, as well as in the atmosphere. It is also made in humans and animals as a part of biochemical processes.
Common Uses Of Hydrogen Peroxide
The first recorded use of hydrogen peroxide was to bleach the commonly-worn straw hats in the early 1900s, and was wildly popular in the 1950s to dye hair the much sought-after peroxide blonde. Nowadays, hydrogen peroxide is commonly used in industry and in the home:
- Around 60% of all hydrogen peroxide is used in pulp- and paper-bleaching
- Its second most common use is in the manufacture of the mild bleaches in laundry detergents
- Hydrogen peroxide is also used in the textile bleaching and wool scouring industries
- It is also used to destroy soluble cyanides, sulphides and phenols in wastewater treatment plants
For comprehensive information about hydrogen peroxide, check out our Complete Guide to Hydrogen Peroxide resource.
ReAgent sells hydrogen peroxide in 6%, 30% and 35% solutions, and in 2.5 or 25 litre pack sizes – it is not suitable for bleaching straw hats or dying your hair! If you’d like to discuss your hydrogen peroxide requirements, contact our friendly team.
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