Esterification and Catalysis

The Acidic Environment‎ > ‎5. Esterification‎ > ‎

Describe the purpose of using acid in esterification for catalysis

  • Esterification is a relatively slow process at room temperature and does not proceed to completion.
  • Concentrated sulfuric acid is used as a catalyst, and has a dual role:
    • Speeds up the reaction.
    • Acts as a dehydrating agent, forcing the equilibrium to the right and resulting in a greater yield of ester.
  • Only very small amounts of sulfuric acid are used, as large amounts would be wasteful, uneconomical, and would complicate the final separation processes.
  • Therefore, the addition of the acid does not have a considerable impact on the yield of ester.
  • In addition to the catalyst, esterification reactions are usually carried out at temperatures near the boiling point of the alcohol being reacted, which also increases the reaction rate.