Decomposition of Potassium Chlorate

Decomposition of Potassium Chlorate
Experiment 4C
FV 1-21-16
THE DECOMPOSITION OF POTASSIUM CHLORATE
MATERIALS: test tubes: (25x150 (Instructor Demo, Part A), 18x150 (Part B)); 100 mL beaker, glass
wool, potassium chlorate, manganese(IV) oxide.
PURPOSE:
The purpose of this experiment is to study the decomposition of potassium chlorate and
quantitatively determining the correct stoichiometry.
LEARNING OBJECTIVES: By the end of this experiment, the student should be able to demonstrate the
following proficiencies:
1.
2.
Find the MSDS and/or Safety Card for a chemical species, and locate important
information related to physical properties, reactivity, and appropriate handling
protocols.
After carrying out the decomposition reaction for potassium chlorate, quantitatively
verify its stoichiometry.
DISCUSSION:
Stoichiometry. A major emphasis of chemistry is the understanding chemical reactions. This requires
knowing the correct formulas for all reactants and products involved in the reaction, as well as the relative
molar amounts of each. Such information is provided by the balanced chemical reaction, but where does that
come from? The answer is that reactions are determined by experiment. Careful mass measurements and
physical and/or chemical tests allow one to deduce the proper reaction. Only when that is understood can one
start to consider useful applications of the reaction. Consider the title reaction, the thermal decomposition of
potassium chlorate. When KClO3 is heated strongly, it breaks down releasing oxygen gas and leaving behind
a thermally stable (i.e., heat-insensitive) solid residue of an ionic potassium compound.
solid potassium chlorate  oxygen gas + solid residue
There are at least three plausible reactions one can write for the process, but only one occurs to any significant
extent. Which one is actually observed can only be determined by experiment, such as those conducted here.
By measuring the amount of oxygen lost when a sample of potassium chlorate is heated, we will be able to
determine the stoichiometric coefficients of KClO3 and O2 in the reaction, and thus determine the correct
reaction.
Relevant Naval Application. On submarines, oxygen for breathing is normally produced through electrolysis
of water. Details relating to this process will be studied later in the course. In an emergency, a chemical
process is used to produce oxygen gas for breathing, specifically the decomposition of sodium chlorate at
high temperature (i.e., above 300oC), producing oxygen gas and a solid sodium salt. Unfortunately, there are
several complications associated with this reaction which must be remedied if the production of oxygen gas
for breathing is to be performed safely and efficiently in this practical application.
First, though the decomposition reaction occurs at temperatures above 300oC, it is extremely slow and
therefore impractical for oxygen production in bulk. This is remedied by adding a catalyst, in this case
manganese(IV) oxide, which significantly increases the rate of the reaction, without itself being consumed.
Second, the intense flame used to raise the temperature of the sodium chlorate above 300oC is produced by a
combustion reaction, which consumes large quantities of oxygen gas, whereas the purpose of the overall
process is to produce oxygen gas. While this issue cannot be completely remedied, small amounts of iron
metal are mixed in, reacting with some of the oxygen to produce iron oxide and releasing large quantities of
E4C-1
energy which helps maintain the mixture above the 300oC decomposition temperature. After the “candle” is
ignited, the oxygen-consuming flame used to initiate the decomposition reaction is replaced by this iron
combustion process, making it more self-sustaining.
Third, while the desired decomposition reaction predominates, there is another decomposition reaction which
produces toxic chlorine gas, oxygen gas and sodium oxide. This is remedied by including small amounts of
barium peroxide in the mixture, which reacts with the toxic chlorine gas to produce barium chloride and
oxygen gas.
In summary, the “chlorate” or “oxygen” candle used for emergency production of oxygen gas for breathing on
submarines consists of a mixture of sodium chlorate, iron, a small amount of barium peroxide, and a fibrous
binding material. In practice, each candle burns near 400oC for 45-60 minutes, and produces approximately
115 SCF (standard cubic feet) of oxygen gas at 0.5 psig (pounds per square inch, gauge pressure), which is
enough oxygen for about 100 people. The stored candles represent a significant fire hazard since they are
self-sustaining in oxygen.
Figure 1.
candles.
Examples of oxygen
Various candle sizes are manufactured
for different applications. While
oxygen candles are most commonly
used for emergency purposes on
submarines, they are also used in
spacecraft,
refuge
shelters
in
underground mines, and emergency
shelters. One manufacturer claims that
with a shelf life of 10 years, one
oxygen candle produces enough O2 to
keep 15 people alive for 5.7 hours,
assuming they are at rest (calculation
based on 0.5 L per person per minute).
Use of potassium chlorate. In this experiment, potassium chlorate will be used instead of the sodium chlorate
employed commercially. As you should suspect, analogous reactions occur, with all of the same
complications. The only remedy that will be applied here will be the inclusion of the manganese (IV) oxide
catalyst. Since all of the procedures will be carried out in the fume hood, any toxic chlorine gas produced will
be safely carried away in the ventilation system. Why is NaClO3 used commercially, rather than KClO3? The
principal reason is cost; sodium salts are typically much less expensive than their potassium counterparts.
Material Safety Data Sheets and International Chemical Safety Cards. Any institution where chemicals are
used is required to have copies of the material safety data sheets (MSDS) or safety data sheets (SDS)
available for use. These sheets provide key information relating to health hazards, appropriate storage,
handling and disposal arrangements, fire and explosive hazards, required control measures, physical/chemical
properties, and reactivity data. In this experiment, the MSDS for potassium chlorate will be used to help guide
the experimental study of its decomposition reactions. In general, prior to any chemical procedure, the
relevant MSDS should be consulted to assure safe and proper procedures are followed. Another system
which provides similar information is the International Chemical Safety Card system. Both MSDS and Safety
Cards are available on-line through links found on the Plebe Chemistry homepage.
E4C-2
PROCEDURE:
Part A: Instructor Demonstration
1. Your instructor will heat a small sample of KClO3 to the point of decomposition, and then add a
common combustible material.

Answer In-Lab Questions #1 and #2 on page E4C-5.
Part B: Determination of the Stoichiometry of the Decomposition Reaction of Potassium Chlorate
1. Using the top-loading balance, pre-weigh about 2.5 – 3.0 g of pure KClO3 into a plastic weighing boat.
Be careful not to introduce any foreign material into the bottles of potassium chlorate since
explosive mixtures could be produced. Think of the demonstration! Use a clean stirring rod or
spatula to break up any lumps or clumps. (If you lose a little at this point it will not matter.)
2. Place an empty beaker on the pan of the analytical balance and tare it. Place a clean, dry test tube into
the beaker (to hold it up) and obtain the mass of the empty test tube. Record it in the Data Section with
the proper significant figures and units.
3. Removing the test tube from the balance, transfer the KClO3 (from Step #1) to the test tube and reweigh
it (make sure the beaker is tared on the balance).
4. Add a small amount of MnO2 to your test tube (about the amount from the tip of a small spatula).
Gently mix the contents by softly flicking the test tube (do not mix with a spatula). At this point, your
solid should have a light grayish color. Add a small, loose plug of glass wool to the top of your test
tube, which will allow gases to escape but keep the solid inside the tube during the heating process.
5. With the empty beaker tared on the balance, re-weigh the test tube with all of its contents.
6. Clamp the test tube to a ring stand as shown in the figure below. Be sure that the clamp does not have
plastic sleeves as these will burn during the experiment. Place the clamp near the open end of the test
tube so that the clamp will not melt while the test tube is
being heated. (Don’t squeeze the clamp too tightly as you
may crack the tube.) Be sure the open end of the test tube is
not pointed toward anyone or toward the lab aisles.
7. Heat the tube gently at first since oxygen is driven off
quickly as the decomposition of the potassium chlorate
begins. Move the burner around to achieve uniform heating.
Increase the rate of heating as the rate of gas evolution
decreases, finally heating as strongly as possible for an
additional three or four minutes. Make sure to heat the sides
of the tube if there is solid there.
8. Allow the tube to cool to room temperature and determine
the mass of the tube and its total contents, including the
residue and the glass wool, on the analytical balance. This is
the mass after heating (don’t forget to tare out the beaker).
Any mass lost as a result of the heating should be due only to
the escape of oxygen gas produced by the decomposition.

Answer In-Lab Questions #3-9 on page E4C-5.
E4C-3
Clean Up:
1. Place all used test tubes, including their contents, in the designated solid waste container in the
laboratory. KClO3 must NOT be disposed of in the trash, since it can react with combustibles.
Name _________________________________
Section________________________
Partner ________________________________
Date__________________________
DATA SECTION
Experiment 4
Part B. Determination of the Stoichiometry of the Decomposition Reaction of KClO3
All masses should be from the analytical balance. Report units and proper significant figures.
Mass of empty test tube
________________
Mass of tube + KClO3
________________
Mass of KClO3 in tube
________________
Mass of tube and total contents (including MnO2 and glass wool)
Before heating
______________
After heating
______________
Mass of oxygen gas evolved
_______________
E4C-4
Name _____________________________________
Section _____________
IN-LAB QUESTIONS 
Experiment 4C
Complete these questions during lab.
1. What was the fuel (combustible material) that was added to the hot KClO3? What happened when it was
dropped into the test tube?
2. Was the process of combustion of the fuel endothermic (absorbs energy) or exothermic (releases energy)?
What evidence do you have for that?
3. What did you observe as you heated the mixture of KClO3 and MnO2? How could you identify when the
decomposition process started and when it was complete?
KClO3 (s)  KClO3 (ℓ)
4. Consider the process of melting the solid KClO3:
Is this process endothermic or exothermic? Explain your answer.
5. Which of the two energy diagrams best describes the process of the melting of KClO3(s)? Circle it.
KClO3 (s)
_________________________
KClO3 (ℓ)
________________________
Energy
Energy
KClO3 (ℓ)
_________________________
KClO3 (s)
________________________
E4C-5
6. If the experiment is carried out properly, any mass lost during heating must be due to oxygen gas that
escaped when the KClO3 decomposed. Based on your data, how many grams of oxygen gas escaped
during the decomposition? How many moles of O2 (g) is this? Show your work.
7. Based on your data (and assuming complete decomposition of the sample), what mass of KClO3 was
decomposed in your experiment? How many moles of KClO3 (s) is this? Show your work.
8. Based on your data and the answers above, what is numerical value of the mole ratio between O2 and
KClO3? Show your work.
moles O2 produced

moles KClO3 decomposed
Report your value for inclusion with the class data.
Hood
1
Class Data for moles O2/moles KClO3
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
Average
Based on the class data, and removing any outlying results, what is the average value?
E4C-6
9. Which of the three reactions in the Pre-Lab best fits your experimental data (circle it)? Explain your
answer.
moles O2 produced
?
moles KClO3 decomposed
a. ___ KClO3 (s)  ___ KClO2 (s) + _____ O2 (g)
__________
b. ___ KClO3 (s)  ___ KClO (s) + _____ O2 (g)
__________
c. ___ KClO3 (s)  ___ KCl (s)
__________
+ _____ O2 (g)
POST-LAB QUESTIONS
1. Ignoring any side reactions and assuming the reaction occurs completely and by the stoichiometry
determined in the experiment, how large (in kg) an oxygen candle (KClO3) would be needed to
supply 8 people with enough oxygen for 24 hours on a small submarine? Although this depends on
the size of the person and their respiration rate (activity), according to NASA1, an average person
needs about 0.84 kg of O2 per day.
2.
Magnesium chlorate solid thermally decomposes to form magnesium chloride solid and oxygen gas.
a. Write the balanced chemical reaction for this decomposition. Include the states.
b. If 2.50 g of magnesium chlorate is decomposed, assuming complete reaction, how many
grams of oxygen gas are formed? Show your work. Report answer with proper significant
figures.
1
Wieland, P.O., Designing for Human Presence in Space: An Introduction to Environment Control and Life
Support Systems, NASA Reference Publication 1324, 1994, pp. 6, 183-262.
E4C-7
Name ______________________________
Section ___________________________
PRE-LAB QUESTIONS
Experiment 4C
Complete these questions before lab.
1. Find the MSDS (or Safety Card or SDS) for potassium chlorate.
a) Are there any health hazards associated with this material, and what conditions produce these
hazards?
b) Under what conditions does it produce fire or explosion hazards?
c) Since this experiment involves high temperatures, what are the melting point and decomposition
temperature for potassium chlorate? Include the units.
melting temperature _________
decomposition temperature _________
d) Based on these values, what will you see happening to the potassium chlorate solid as you begin
heating it to high temperatures?
2. Following are three possible reactions that could occur when a sample of KClO3 (s) is heated. One goal of
this lab is to determine the correct one. Balance all three reactions.
moles O2 produced
?
moles KClO3 decomposed
a. ___ KClO3 (s)  ___ KClO2 (s) + _____ O2 (g)
__________
b. ___ KClO3 (s)  ___ KClO (s) + _____ O2 (g)
__________
c. ___ KClO3 (s)  ___ KCl (s)
__________
+ _____ O2 (g)
3. In the appropriate spaces above, fill in the values of the mole ratio
(moles O2 / moles KClO3)
based on the stoichiometric coefficients of the three balanced equations. Enter this information on
page E4C-7 as well.
4. How is the decomposition of an alkali metal chlorate used on Navy submarines?
E4C-8
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