10 Differences Between physical adsorption and chemical adsorption

Engaging 50 word intro:
Physical adsorption and chemical adsorption are two phenomena that occur when molecules or particles adhere to a solid surface. While they may sound similar, there are significant differences between them in terms of energy involved, strength of attachment, and applications. In this article, we delve into the details of physical and chemical adsorption, their examples, uses, and key differentiating factors.

What is/are physical adsorption?

Physical adsorption, also known as physisorption, is a process where molecules or particles are attracted to a solid surface through weak van der Waals forces or London dispersion forces. The adsorption occurs due to the intermolecular forces between the adsorbate (the substance being adsorbed) and the adsorbent (the solid surface).

Physical adsorption is typically reversible, meaning that the adsorbate can easily detach from the surface under appropriate conditions such as reducing pressure, increasing temperature, or altering the concentration of the adsorbate.

Examples of physical adsorption:

– Adsorption of gases on activated charcoal
– Water molecules adhering to the surface of silica gel
– Nitrogen gas adsorbing on metal surfaces

Uses of physical adsorption:

– Gas storage and separation: Physical adsorption is used in various gas separation processes, such as carbon dioxide capture from flue gases and storage of natural gas.
– Catalyst support: Physical adsorption helps in anchoring catalysts on solid materials, enhancing their activity and stability.
– Moisture control: Materials with high adsorption capacities, like silica gel, are commonly used to control humidity and prevent corrosion in packaging or electronic devices.

What is/are chemical adsorption?

Chemical adsorption, also known as chemisorption, refers to the attachment of molecules or particles to a solid surface through strong chemical bonds. Unlike physical adsorption, chemical adsorption involves the formation of new chemical bonds between the adsorbate and the adsorbent, resulting in a more permanent attachment.

Chemical adsorption is typically irreversible, meaning that it requires significant energy input or chemical reactions to break the formed bonds and detach the adsorbate from the surface.

Examples of chemical adsorption:

– Oxidation of hydrogen on a metal surface
– Adsorption of dyes on activated carbon
– Chemisorption of ammonia on metal oxide catalysts

Uses of chemical adsorption:

– Catalysis: Chemical adsorption plays a crucial role in many catalytic reactions, such as the hydrogenation of unsaturated compounds or the oxidation of pollutants.
– Gas sensing: Certain materials exhibit changes in electrical or optical properties upon adsorption of specific gases, enabling their use in gas sensing devices.
– Surface modification: Chemical adsorption can be utilized to modify the surface properties of materials, such as increasing hydrophobicity or introducing functional groups.

Differences Table:

Difference Area Physical Adsorption Chemical Adsorption
Energy involved Low energy required High energy required
Attachment strength Weaker forces (van der Waals, London dispersion) Strong chemical bonds
Reversibility Reversible under appropriate conditions Generally irreversible
Activation energy Lower activation energy Higher activation energy
Adsorbate-Adsorbent bonding Weak, non-specific interactions Strong, specific chemical bonds
Surface coverage Lower coverage Higher coverage
Surface area requirement Lower surface area required Higher surface area required
Adsorption capacity Lower adsorption capacity Higher adsorption capacity
Temperature dependency Adsorption decreases with increasing temperature Adsorption increases with increasing temperature
Type of bonding involved Weaker van der Waals forces or London dispersion forces Strong covalent or ionic bonds


In summary, physical adsorption and chemical adsorption differ in terms of energy involvement, attachment strength, reversibility, activation energy, bonding type, surface coverage, surface area requirement, adsorption capacity, temperature dependency, and bonding types involved. Physical adsorption relies on weak intermolecular forces, is reversible, and requires low energy. Chemical adsorption involves strong chemical bonds, is generally irreversible, and requires high energy. These differences make physical and chemical adsorption suitable for distinct applications.

People Also Ask:

  1. What is the main difference between physical adsorption and chemical adsorption?
    The main difference lies in the strength of bonding. Physical adsorption involves weaker forces (van der Waals, London dispersion) and is reversible, while chemical adsorption involves stronger chemical bonds and is generally irreversible.
  2. Is physical adsorption stronger than chemical adsorption?
    No, physical adsorption is weaker than chemical adsorption. Chemical adsorption involves stronger bonding through the formation of chemical bonds, making it more difficult to break and detach the adsorbate.
  3. What factors affect physical adsorption?
    Factors such as temperature, pressure, concentration of adsorbate, and surface area of the adsorbent influence physical adsorption. Higher temperature and concentrations generally decrease physical adsorption, while larger surface area and higher pressure enhance it.
  4. What are some common applications of physical adsorption?
    Physical adsorption is used for gas separation, moisture control, catalyst support, purification processes, and selective adsorption of specific molecules or compounds.
  5. Can physical adsorption be reversed?
    Yes, physical adsorption can be reversed under appropriate conditions such as reducing pressure, increasing temperature, or altering the concentration of the adsorbate.

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