Acetic Acid

Acetic Acid: An Essential Organic Compound


Acetic acid, also known as ethanoic acid or by its systematic name methanecarboxylic acid, is an organic compound with the chemical formula CH3COOH. It has a distinct sour or vinegar-like smell and taste, and is the main component of vinegars. Acetic acid is a colourless liquid that is miscible with water and most organic solvents. In the food industry, acetic acid is commonly used to preserve various foods and improve their tastes. It plays an important role in various chemical processes as well.

Chemical and Physical Properties

Acetic acid is a monocarboxylic acid as it contains one carboxyl group. Its IUPAC name “methanecarboxylic acid” indicates its chemical structure – the acid contains a methyl substituent bonded to the carboxyl group. Some key chemical and physical properties of acetic acid include:

– Molecular formula: C2H4O2

– Molar mass: 60.05 g/mol

– Melting point: 16.7 °C (62.1 °F)

– Boiling point: 118.1 °C (244.6 °F)

– Density: 1.049 g/cm3 at 20 °C

– Solubility: Miscible with water, ethanol, ether, acetone, benzene

– Acidity: Strong organic acid, pKa value of 4.76

Pure acetic acid is a colourless liquid. It has a strong, characteristic pungent smell and sour vinegar-like taste. Being hygroscopic, acetic acid readily absorbs moisture from air. It is completely miscible with water, alcohols and many organic solvents due to its polar nature. Acetic acid ionizes readily in aqueous solutions to yield acetic acid molecules (CH3COOH) and acetate ions (CH3COO-).

Production of Acetic Acid

On an industrial scale, Acetic Acid is primarily produced via catalytic carbonylation of methanol. In this process, methanol, carbon monoxide and oxygen are reacted in the presence of a catalyst (often containing rhodium, iridium or palladium) at elevated temperatures and pressures:


Some other important production methods include:

– Oxidation of ethanol: Ethanol is oxidized to acetic acid using specific oxygen-transfer catalysts.

– Hydrocarbon oxidation: Direct oxidation of hydrocarbons like n-butane produces acetic acid.

– Microbial fermentation: Specific acetic acid bacteria are able to ferment various sugars/alcohols to produce acetic acid.

The global production of acetic acid currently exceeds 10 million tons annually. It is one of the most abundantly produced organic chemicals worldwide.

Uses of Acetic Acid

The versatility of acetic acid leads to its usage in many industries and applications. Some major uses are:

– Vinegar production: Dilute acetic acid solutions are used extensively to make various types of vinegar.

– Production of acetate esters: Esters like ethyl acetate are produced by esterification reactions between acetic acid and alcohols.

– Polymer production: Used as a monomer in synthesis of polymers like polyvinyl acetate and terephthalate.

– Textiles: Used for dyeing, printing and manufacturing of rayon. Helps in softening and brightening of textiles.

– Wood preservative: Acetic acid formulations are employed for protection of wood from rot, molds and insects.

– Pharmaceuticals: Enters into production of many active pharmaceutical ingredients and excipients.

– Food industry: Used as a food additive and preservative due to its antibacterial properties. Improves flavors.

– Petrochemicals: Acts as an intermediate in production of solvents like acetone. Also used in extracting, blending and purifying petroleum products.

– Household products: Present in various cleaning agents like disinfectants due to deodorizing and antibacterial effects.

– Photography: Employed as a diluent and catalyst in photographic developers and fixing agents.

Acetic acid plays a crucial industrial role owing to its powerful acidity, distinctive smell and miscibility with various substances. It is one of the commodity chemicals in highest demand globally.

The chemical and physical properties of acetic acid, the industrial production methods employed, and its widespread applications across many sectors. As the chief component of vinegar and a ubiquitous industrial organic acid, acetic acid will continue to be an essential building block in specialty, commodity and agriculture chemicals production. Further research into novel production processes could also help optimize acetic acid manufacturing and utilization.

1.  Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it