Nitric acid is a strong oxidizing agent. It ionizes readily in solution, forming a good conductor of electricity. It reacts with metals, oxides, and hydroxides, forming nitrate salts. Chief uses of nitric acid are in the preparation of fertilizers, e.g., ammonium nitrate, and explosives, e.g., nitroglycerin and trinitrotoluene (TNT). It is also used in the manufacture of chemicals, e.g., in making dyes, and in metallurgy, ore flotation, etching steel, photoengraving, and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. It is produced chiefly by oxidation of ammonia (the Ostwald process). Small amounts are produced by the treatment of sodium nitrate with sulfuric acid. Nitric acid was known to the alchemists as aqua fortis; the name is used in commerce for impure grades of it. Aqua regia is a mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acids. Niric acid is a component of acid rain.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Compounds and Elements