Exothermic reaction

An exothermic thermite reaction using iron(III) oxide. The sparks flying outwards are globules of molten irons trailing smoke in their wake.

An exothermic reaction is a chemical reaction that releases energy by light or heat. It is the opposite of an endothermic reaction.[1]

Expressed in a chemical equation: reactants → products + energy


An exothermic reaction is a chemical or physical reaction that releases heat. It gives net energy to its surroundings. That is, the energy needed to initiate the reaction is less than the energy released.[2]

When the medium in which the reaction is taking place gains heat, the reaction is exothermic. When using a calorimeter, the total amount of heat that flows into (or through) the calorimeter is the negative of the net change in energy of the system.

The absolute amount of energy in a chemical system is difficult to measure or calculate. The enthalpy change, ΔH, of a chemical reaction is much easier to work with. The enthalpy change equals the change in internal energy of the system plus the work needed to change the volume of the system against constant ambient pressure. A bomb calorimeter is very suitable for measuring the energy change, ΔH, of a combustion reaction. Measured and calculated ΔH values are related to bond energies by:

ΔH = energy used in forming product bonds − energy released in breaking reactant bonds
An energy profile of an exothermic reaction

In an exothermic reaction, by definition, the enthalpy change has a negative value:

ΔH < 0

since a larger value (the energy released in the reaction) is subtracted from a smaller value (the energy used for the reaction). For example, when hydrogen burns:

2H2 (g) + O2 (g) → 2H2O (g)
ΔH = −483.6 kJ/mol of O2 [3]

The most commonly available hand warmers make use of the oxidation of iron to achieve an exothermic reaction:

4Fe(s) + 3O2(g) → 2Fe2O3(s).

Examples of exothermic reactions

Video of an exothermic reaction. Ethanol vapor is ignited inside a bottle, causing combustion.

Other points to think about


Heat production or absorption in either a physical process or chemical reaction is measured using calorimetry. One common laboratory instrument is the reaction calorimeter, where the heat flow into or from the reaction vessel is monitored. The technique can be used to follow chemical reactions as well as physical processes such as crystallization and dissolution.

Energy released is measured in Joule per mole. The reaction has a negative ΔH(heat change) value due to heat loss. e.g.: -123 J/mol

See also


  1. Article written by Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D on exothermic and endothermic reactions http://chemistry.about.com/cs/generalchemistry/a/aa051903a.htm
  2. "Endothermic and Exothermic Reactions". About Chemistry. 3 February 2013. Retrieved 5 April 2016.
  3. http://chemistry.osu.edu/~woodward/ch121/ch5_enthalpy.htm
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