When you combine alcohol and carboxylic acid together to create an ester, the chemical reaction is called esterification. It sounds simple when you put it that way, but the process is complex and requires advanced specialty chemicals.
Esterification is one of the most essential reactions in organic chemistry. Esters are building blocks for chemicals necessary for manufacturing in many industries, including pharmaceuticals and fragrances.
During esterification, two reactants combine to form a new molecule — an ester. Typically, these reactants are alcohol and carboxylic acid. For example, Fischer esterification is a carboxyl acid treated with alcohol in the presence of a dehydrating compound.
What is an Ester?
An ester is an organic compound with a pleasant, fruity odor. That is why esterification is often associated with the production of fragrances. Esters occur when a carbon is connected to two oxygens, but one of the oxygen atoms isn’t connected to anything else.
Esters are also more volatile when compared to carboxylic acids. That helps chemists to distinguish one ester from another using gas chromatography.
Uses of Esters
Esters are used in a variety of ways and industries, such as:
- Creating emollients
- To create fragrances
- In the production of plastics
- To make explosives, nitroglycerin uses the nitric acid ester
- To manufacture detergents
- To create soaps
They are also used in pharmacology. For example, the acetyl ester of salicylic acid (aspirin) is necessary as it provides the ability to irreversibly interact with some body enzymes that makes the drug effective.
There are three ways esterification is formed. These include:
- Acid anhydride and alcohol
- Acid chloride and alcohol
- Carboxylic acid and alcohol
The Esterification Process
The esterification process is five steps.
Step One: Cation Formation
Step one is cation formation. A cation forms when one atom loses electrons. In this case, ethanoic acid takes a proton from sulphuric acid. That proton attaches itself to an oxygen atom which is double-bonded to the carbon.
Step Two: Delocalization Carbocation
Step two is delocalization carbocation—one of the lone pairs of oxygen in ethanol attacks the positive charge on the carbon atom.
Step Three: Molecule Transfer
During step three, a proton from the bottom oxygen atom transfers to another molecule. This occurs when one of the other compounds picks off the proton and dumps it back into one of the other oxygens in the hydrogen group. This creates a good leaving group.
Step Four: Remove Water
Step four removes water. The alcohol oxygen atom donates electrons that bond to eliminate water.
Step Five: Hydrogen Reaction
In step five, the hydrogen breaks from the oxygen during a reaction with the hydrogen sulfate ion created in step one. That forms the ester while regenerating the acid catalyst.
How Can 3V Sigma USA Help?
The key to using the esterification method properly is the quality of chemicals. 3V Sigma USA is the world leader in producing advanced specialty chemicals. We produce everything from synthetic polymers to organic chemical molecules.
For 60 years, 3V Sigma USA has led the industry with our continuous innovation, quality products, and outstanding customer service. Contact us today to find out more about what we offer.