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Atom Economy

What is atom economy?


Atom economy is a calculation that gives a scientist an idea of how efficient a reaction is. It takes into
account what happens to all the atoms from the reactants. Do they all get converted into the desired
product or not?

Most reactions usually make more than one product but only of those products is what the scientist
wants to make i.e. the desired product. So if several other products are being made, then its not very
efficient.

But if a use can be found for the waste products, then the atom economy will increase, as potentially all
the products are now desired products!

Calculations
In terms of questions its usually a simple calculation using:

Molecular weight of desired product/sum of molecular weights of all products x 100

Example

C6H14 + Cl2 C6H13Cl + HCl

In this reaction the desired product is C6H13Cl. To calculate the atom economy:

Desired product: C6H13Cl = 120.5

Total products: C6H13Cl + HCl = 157

Atom economy = 120.5/157 x 100

= 76.7%

Example

BCl3 + 1.5H2 B + 3HCl

In this reaction B is the desired product:

Desired product: B = 10.8


Total products: B + 3HCl = 120.3

Atom economy = 10.8/120.3 x 100

= 8.98%

Watch out for the ratios. In the above example the equation shows 3HCl, therefore you need to
multiply the HCl mass x 3.

Addition reactions always have 100% atom economy as only 1 product is formed e.g. electrophilic
addition or addition polymers.