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Oxygen from Hydrogen Peroxide

A Safe Molar Volume-Molar Mass Experiment

John H. Bedenbaugh, Angela 0. Bedenbaugh, and Thomas S. Heard
University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, MS 39406

The manganese dioxide-catalyzed thermal decomposition

of potassium chlorate to produce oxygen is the classic molar
volume-molar mass experiment that has been found in
countless general chemistry laboratory textbooks for de-
cades. However, it is a procedure that is falling into disre-
pute. The potential hazards inherent in this preparation of
oxygen have been listed ( I ) and reports of explosions occur-
ring during this experiment continue to mount (2).By direct
suggestion (3) or implication (4) teachers are being advised
not to incorporate this procedure into their program of ex-
periments. unfortunately, teachers will find only a very lim-
ited number of experiments from which to choose a suhsti-
tute nrocedure that will accomolish the same instructional
objectives (5).
Convinced of the hazard of usina- potassium
- chlorate, we
wanted to develop a specific replacement procedure (one in
which a reactant on decomposition would yield oxygen gas
quantitatively) for use by students in determining molar
volume or molar mass. We sought a method that would be
simple, rapid, inexpensive, and in which we could use locally
available chemicals.
In 1926 Wikoff and Brown (6)published a procedure for expanded view of
the qualitative preparation of oxygen that is rarely cited gas generation system
today. A cake of compressed bakers' yeast was mixed with
water to give a uniform suspension. When a 3% solution of
- - neroxide
hvdroeen . was added to the susoension, a vigorous
evolution of oxygen occurred. Bakers' yeast is exceptfonally
rich in the enzvme. catalase, which catalyzes the decomposi- Gas generation system and gas collection apparatus
tion of hydrogen to produce oxygen and water.
2H,0, - 2H,O + O2
Wikoff and Brown vrovosed
. . the reaction as a simple, inex-
hydrogen peroxide purchased at a local store, weighed exactly, ti-
pensive way to prepare oxygen, and also suggested an adap- trated with standard potassium permanganate, and the results were
tation oftheexverimenr toastudy ofthe rate of liherationof averaged to determine the concentration to two decimal places.
oxygen. ~ o w e i e rthey
, pointed out that the yield of oxygen The procedure (using the data from one of the determinations)
from hydrogen peroxide via this route was not quantitative, follows. A 2.3996-g sample of "3%" hydrogen peroxide solution was
hut they did not explain why. Years later Alyea included an weighed into a 250-mL Erlenmeyer flask. Then 100 mL of 1 M
updated version of this reaction among several methods of sulfuricacidwas added, and the solution was titrated with commer-
preparing oxygen (7). He used active dry yeast powder in- cia1 standard potassium permanganate (0.1005-0.0995 N) using
stead of moist yeast cake. Much more recently George and magnetic stirring. The volume of permanganate solution used was
Johnson developed a procedure using dry yeast and 3% hy- 41.30 mL. The actual concentration of that particular sample af
hydrogen peroxide solution was thus determined to he 2.93%.
drogen peroxide for the safe, simple production of oxygen for
use by elementary school children (8). Catalytic Decomposition of Hydrogen Peroxide
Because the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide using To Produce Oxygen
comoressed veast cake had been reported to be nonquantita- We used essentially the same type of gas collection apparatus as
tive;we decided to determine experimentally whither the that described by Peck, Irgolic, and O'Connor (5)but developed the
reaction involving dry yeast powder is quantitative. In order gas generationsystem illustrated in the figure. The pencil should be
to do that, however, i t was necessary to develop a method for cylindrical (circular base). It is critical that there be a good match
introducing.the yeast into the hydrogen peroxide solution in
between the holes in the stopper and the diameter of the pencil.
a closed system so that the oxygen evolved could be mea- Holes may have to he drilled in solid stoppers on site to achieve the
sured. We sought a simple method appropriate for use by fit necessary for easy movement of the pencil through the stopper.
students. Prior to insertion of the ruhher stopper assembly into the test
tube, the lower 2 cm of the round pencil was coated with petroleum
Procedure jelly (Vaseline).Then dry active yeast powder was sprinkled on the
coated end of the pencil, which was tapped several times to dislodge
Titration of Aqueous Hydrogen Peroxide with Standard any yeast particles not adhering well to the hydrocarhon coating.
Potassium Permanqanate The stopper assembly was then inserted carefully (so as not to
We wanted to determineaccurately the concentration of the com- dislodge the yeast) into the mouth of the test tube into which
mercially available "3%" hydrogen peroxide to he used. Several approximately 4.00 g of 3% hydrogen peroxide solution had been
samples (approximately 2.4 g each) were taken from a bottle of weighed.

Volume 65 Number 5 May 1988 455

The gas collection apparatus, filled with tap water that had been one can determine the volume of oxygen collected over water
left overnight in a container to come to room temperature, was a t room temperature and pressure. After calculating the
connected with a 60-cm length of flexible tubing to the gas genera- partial pressure of the oxygen produced in the system, the
tion system, and the closed system was checked for air leaks by volume of oxygen a t STP is determined via the usual gas-law
raising and lowering the leveling bulb. After it was determined that calculations.
the system was gas-tight,the tubing was momentarily disconnected
at the top of the buret, and the level of water in the buret was To determine either the molar volume of oxygen or the
adjusted to approximately 1 cm above the zero mark by moving the molar mass of hydrogen peroxide, obviously the student
leveling bulb. Then the free end of the tubing was reattached, must be given (or must first determine) the concentration of
thereby closing the system again, and the water level in the huret the aqueous hydrogen peroxide solution used in order to
dropped to slightly below the zero mark. After again adjusting the calculate themass of hydrogen peroxide from the mass of the
leveling bulb until its water level matched that of the buret, the hydrogen peroxide solution.
water level in the buret was read and recorded. Also recorded were The basic equations needed for these experiments are
the room temperature and barometric pressure.
Reaction was initiated by pushing the pencil into the solution (1) Molar Volume of Oxygen
until the top mark on the pencil coincided with the top of the
stopper. (Lubrication of this upper area of the pencil facilitated its
g H,O, -- 68.02 g H,O,
movement through the stopper.) The yeast adhering to the petro- mL 0, (STP) x
leum jelly was thus brought into contact with hydrogen peroxide, [molar mass of Hz02 = 34.01 glmol]
which decomposed to give a smooth, steady evolution of oxygen. To
insure good mixing the test tube was shaken gently several times. (2) M d a r Mass of Hydrogen Peroxide
When the water level became stationary,the reaction was complete.
The test tube was then shaken a final time, the water levels in the
gH A -- X
mL 0, (STP) 11,200 mL 0%
" . and thevolumeofwater remainine in
buret and bulb matchedaeain.
the buret read and recorded. Reaction was complete in less than (3) Concentration of Hydrogen Peroxide in a n Aqueous
three minutes. Only about 15 minutes was required for all opera-
tions involved in each determination. Solution
A volume correction (to he subtracted from the volume of oxygen 34.01 g H,O, (x)(gH,O, soln.)
measured) is required to compensate for the increase in gas volume 11,200 mL 0, mL 0, (STP)
produced by the insertion of the pencil into the liquid. This correc-
tion can be determined experimentally by simply measuring the
amount of water displaced in the buret when the pencil is pushed Comments
the measured distance into the empty test tube with the entire This experiment is inherently safe because no heat is in-
system closed. Alternatively,knowing the diameter of the pencil and volved and no hazardous chemicals are used. Moreover, an
the additional length (in centimeters) of the pencil to be inserted, effort has been made to make every aspect of the entire
the volume correction can be calculated from the formula: u = rrzh, procedure safe. Thus a pencil is used to introduce the yeast
where h is the distance from mark to mark and, therefore, the
distance of the increased intrusion of the pencil into the closed to avoid cuts arising from pushing a glass rod through the
system. hole in the rubber stopper. Also medicine dropper pipets are
We assumed no loss of oxygen generated due to solubility in used rather than glass tubing because glass cutting is avoid-
water. This appears reasonable since the tap water used in the ed and insertion into the holes of the rubber stoppers is
measuring apparatus had not been degassed. made easier because of the tapered ends of the pipets. I n
preparing "unknowns" for students to use in determining
concentration of solutions, i t is suggested that various dilu-
tions of 3% hydrogen peroxide he prepared rather than pur-
Data Obtained chasing more concentrated solutions that are not readily
Following the standardization of the hydrogen peroxide available and that may be hazardous when used in this
solution with Dermanganate, the procedure described was procedure.
carried out se\:en tnn& to get the data we report. A sample The short reaction time makes it quite feasible for the
m a s of approximately 4 g was used to produce a volmne of student to conduct the experimental procedure three times
d n110-45 ml.1 that would utilipe most ofthecaoacitvof
~ ~ ~
during a one-hour laboratory period to get an average value
the buret. ~ n o w i ' nthe
~ volume of oxygen collected over and a standard deviation.
water a t room temnerature and nressure from a aiven mass This is an exceptionally economical experiment. The cost
of hydrogen peroxide solutinn, the \,olume of oxvgen at 5'1'1' of consumable supplies is only $0.015 per reaction. Thus 20
w3s calr~datrd.This value was romr~aredwith the throrrri- students could each perform the experiment three times for
cal yield of oxygen a t S T P from the.given mass of hydrogen a total cost of $0.90 for consumables.
peroxide solution, and the error was calculated.
Errors ranged from 0.18-3.13%) the average error was Summary
1.80%. We concluded that, within experimental error, the Dry yeast-induced decomposition of dilute aqueous hy-
reaction is quantitative. drogen peroxide to produce oxygen is a safe, simple, econom-
ical replacement for thermal decomposition of potassium
Three Experiments Possible
chlorate in molar volume and molar mass experiments.
The ~roceduredescribed is the basis of three experiments Moreover, the hydrogen peroxide decomposition~procedure
that may be done by students to determine: (1) molar vol- can he the basis of an experiment in which the concentration
ume of oxygen, (2) molar mass of hydrogen peroxide, (3) of hydrogen peroxide solutions is determined.
concentration of hydrogen peroxide in aqueous solutions.
A student can make any of these three determinations Literature Cited
after measurine the volume of oxvaen obtained from the
experimental procedure and notingthat two moles of hydro-
een oeroxide vield one mole of oxygen
.- (from the equation for
oiPublic Inatructian: Raleigh, NC.
ihe ieaction): 4. Flinn 1985 Cololog/Re/ermc~Monuai: Flinn Scientific Batavia. IL; p 103
The data obtained in the laboratory are: mass of the hy- 6. Peck. L.: Irdic. K.:O'Connor.R. J. Chem. E d u c 1980.57.517.
drogen peroxide solution; room temperature and pressure;
and initial and final huret readings. From these readings,
after application of the correction factor for pencil insertion,

456 Journal of Chemical Education