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Acetonitrile

Acetonitrile

Overview
Acetonitrile is the chemical compound
Chemical compound
A chemical compound is a pure chemical substance consisting of two or more different chemical elements that can be separated into simpler substances by chemical reactions. Chemical compounds have a unique and defined chemical structure; they consist of a fixed ratio of atoms that are held together...

 with formula
Chemical formula
A chemical formula or molecular formula is a way of expressing information about the atoms that constitute a particular chemical compound....

 . This colourless liquid is the simplest organic nitrile
Nitrile
A nitrile is any organic compound that has a -C≡N functional group. The prefix cyano- is used interchangeably with the term nitrile in industrial literature. Nitriles are found in many useful compounds, one example being super glue .Inorganic compounds containing the -C≡N group are not called...

. It is produced mainly as a byproduct of acrylonitrile
Acrylonitrile
Acrylonitrile is the chemical compound with the formula C3H3N. This pungent-smelling colorless liquid often appears yellow due to impurities. It is an important monomer for the manufacture of useful plastics. In terms of its molecular structure, it consists of a vinyl group linked to a nitrile...

 manufacture. It is used as a polar aprotic solvent in organic synthesis and in the purification of butadiene.

In the laboratory, it is used as a medium-polarity solvent that is miscible
Miscibility
Miscibility is the property of liquids to mix in all proportions, forming a homogeneous solution. In principle, the term applies also to other phases , but the main focus is usually on the solubility of one liquid in another...

 with water and has a convenient liquid range. With a dipole moment
Electric dipole moment
In physics, the electric dipole moment is a measure of the separation of positive and negative electrical charges in a system of charges, that is, a measure of the charge system's overall polarity with SI units of Coulomb-meter...

 of 3.92 D
Debye
The debye is a CGS unit of electric dipole momentElectric dipole moment is defined as charge times displacement: Historically the debye was defined as the dipole moment resulting from two charges of opposite sign but an equal magnitude of 10-10 statcoulomb10-10 statcoulomb is approximately 0.2083...

, acetonitrile dissolves a wide range of ionic and nonpolar compounds (e.g.
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Encyclopedia
Acetonitrile is the chemical compound
Chemical compound
A chemical compound is a pure chemical substance consisting of two or more different chemical elements that can be separated into simpler substances by chemical reactions. Chemical compounds have a unique and defined chemical structure; they consist of a fixed ratio of atoms that are held together...

 with formula
Chemical formula
A chemical formula or molecular formula is a way of expressing information about the atoms that constitute a particular chemical compound....

 . This colourless liquid is the simplest organic nitrile
Nitrile
A nitrile is any organic compound that has a -C≡N functional group. The prefix cyano- is used interchangeably with the term nitrile in industrial literature. Nitriles are found in many useful compounds, one example being super glue .Inorganic compounds containing the -C≡N group are not called...

. It is produced mainly as a byproduct of acrylonitrile
Acrylonitrile
Acrylonitrile is the chemical compound with the formula C3H3N. This pungent-smelling colorless liquid often appears yellow due to impurities. It is an important monomer for the manufacture of useful plastics. In terms of its molecular structure, it consists of a vinyl group linked to a nitrile...

 manufacture. It is used as a polar aprotic solvent in organic synthesis and in the purification of butadiene.

In the laboratory, it is used as a medium-polarity solvent that is miscible
Miscibility
Miscibility is the property of liquids to mix in all proportions, forming a homogeneous solution. In principle, the term applies also to other phases , but the main focus is usually on the solubility of one liquid in another...

 with water and has a convenient liquid range. With a dipole moment
Electric dipole moment
In physics, the electric dipole moment is a measure of the separation of positive and negative electrical charges in a system of charges, that is, a measure of the charge system's overall polarity with SI units of Coulomb-meter...

 of 3.92 D
Debye
The debye is a CGS unit of electric dipole momentElectric dipole moment is defined as charge times displacement: Historically the debye was defined as the dipole moment resulting from two charges of opposite sign but an equal magnitude of 10-10 statcoulomb10-10 statcoulomb is approximately 0.2083...

, acetonitrile dissolves a wide range of ionic and nonpolar compounds (e.g. Wohl-Ziegler reaction) and is useful as a mobile phase in HPLC
High-performance liquid chromatography
High-performance liquid chromatography , HPLC, is a chromatographic technique that can separate a mixture of compounds and is used in biochemistry and analytical chemistry to identify, quantify and purify the individual components of the mixture.HPLC typically utilizes different types of stationary...

 and LCMS.

Applications


Acetonitrile is used mainly as a solvent in the purification of butadiene in refineries.

It is widely used in battery applications because of its relatively high dielectric constant
Dielectric constant
The relative permittivity of a material under given conditions reflects the extent to which it concentrates electrostatic lines of flux. In technical terms, it is the ratio of the amount of electrical energy stored in a material by an applied voltage, relative to that stored in a vacuum...

 and ability to dissolve electrolytes. For similar reasons it is a popular solvent in cyclic voltammetry
Cyclic voltammetry
Cyclic voltammetry or CV is a type of potentiodynamic electrochemical measurement. In a cyclic voltammetry experiment the working electrode potential is ramped linearly versus time like linear sweep voltammetry. Cyclic voltammetry takes the experiment a step further than linear sweep voltammetry...

.

Its low viscosity
Viscosity
Viscosity is a measure of the resistance of a fluid which is being deformed by either shear or tensile stress. In everyday terms , viscosity is "thickness" or "internal friction". Thus, water is "thin", having a lower viscosity, while honey is "thick", having a higher viscosity...

 and low chemical reactivity make it a popular choice for liquid chromatography.

Acetonitrile plays a significant role as the dominant solvent used in the manufacture of DNA oligonucleotides from monomers.

Industrially, it is used as a solvent for the manufacture of pharmaceuticals and photographic film
Photographic film
Photographic film is a sheet of plastic coated with an emulsion containing light-sensitive silver halide salts with variable crystal sizes that determine the sensitivity, contrast and resolution of the film...

.

Organic synthesis


Acetonitrile is a common two-carbon building block in organic synthesis
Organic synthesis
Organic synthesis is a special branch of chemical synthesis and is concerned with the construction of organic compounds via organic reactions. Organic molecules can often contain a higher level of complexity compared to purely inorganic compounds, so the synthesis of organic compounds has...

 of many useful chemicals, including acetophene, thiamine
Thiamine
Thiamine or thiamin or vitamin B1 , named as the "thio-vitamine" is a water-soluble vitamin of the B complex. First named aneurin for the detrimental neurological effects if not present in the diet, it was eventually assigned the generic descriptor name vitamin B1. Its phosphate derivatives are...

, acetamidine, and α-napthaleneacetic acid. Its reaction with cyanogen chloride
Cyanogen chloride
Cyanogen chloride is an inorganic compound with the formula NCCl. This linear, triatomic pseudohalogen is an easily condensed colorless gas. More commonly encountered in the laboratory is the related compound cyanogen bromide, a room-temperature solid that is widely used in biochemical analysis and...

 affords malononitrile
Malononitrile
Malononitrile, also propanedinitrile, is a nitrile, with formula CH22. Malononitrile is relatively acidic, with an pKa of 11 in water...

.

Ligand in coordination chemistry


In inorganic chemistry
Inorganic chemistry
Inorganic chemistry is the branch of chemistry concerned with the properties and behavior of inorganic compounds. This field covers all chemical compounds except the myriad organic compounds , which are the subjects of organic chemistry...

, acetonitrile is employed as a solvent and often an easily displaceable ligand
Ligand
In coordination chemistry, a ligand is an ion or molecule that binds to a central metal atom to form a coordination complex. The bonding between metal and ligand generally involves formal donation of one or more of the ligand's electron pairs. The nature of metal-ligand bonding can range from...

. For example, PdCl2(CH3CN)2 is prepared by heating a suspension of (polymeric) palladium chloride in acetonitrile:
PdCl2 + 2 CH3CN → PdCl2(CH3CN)2

The CH3CN groups undergo rapid displacement by many other ligands.

Production


Acetonitrile is a by-product from the manufacture of acrylonitrile
Acrylonitrile
Acrylonitrile is the chemical compound with the formula C3H3N. This pungent-smelling colorless liquid often appears yellow due to impurities. It is an important monomer for the manufacture of useful plastics. In terms of its molecular structure, it consists of a vinyl group linked to a nitrile...

. Production trends for acetonitrile thus generally follow those of acrylonitrile
Acrylonitrile
Acrylonitrile is the chemical compound with the formula C3H3N. This pungent-smelling colorless liquid often appears yellow due to impurities. It is an important monomer for the manufacture of useful plastics. In terms of its molecular structure, it consists of a vinyl group linked to a nitrile...

. Acetonitrile can also be produced by many other methods, but these are of no commercial importance as of 2002. Illustrative routes are by dehydration of acetamide
Acetamide
Acetamide is an organic compound with the formula CH3CONH2. It is the simplest amide derived from acetic acid. It finds some use as a plasticizer and as an industrial solvent...

 or by hydrogenation
Hydrogenation
Hydrogenation, to treat with hydrogen, also a form of chemical reduction, is a chemical reaction between molecular hydrogen and another compound or element, usually in the presence of a catalyst. The process is commonly employed to reduce or saturate organic compounds. Hydrogenation typically...

 of mixtures of carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide , also called carbonous oxide, is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is slightly lighter than air. It is highly toxic to humans and animals in higher quantities, although it is also produced in normal animal metabolism in low quantities, and is thought to have some normal...

 and ammonia
Ammonia
Ammonia is a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen with the formula . It is a colourless gas with a characteristic pungent odour. Ammonia contributes significantly to the nutritional needs of terrestrial organisms by serving as a precursor to food and fertilizers. Ammonia, either directly or...

. The main distributors of acetonitrile in the world are: INEOS
Ineos
INEOS Group Limited is a privately owned multinational chemicals company headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland and with its registered office in Lyndhurst, United Kingdom...

, Purification Technologies Inc, BioSolve BV, Carlo Erba Reagents, Panreac, J.T. Baker Chemical, VWR, Sigma Aldrich, and Petrolchem Trading Ltd. In , 32.3 million pounds (14,700 t) of acetonitrile were produced in the US.

Acetonitrile shortage in 2008–2009


Starting in October 2008, the worldwide supply of acetonitrile was low because Chinese production was shut down for the Olympics. Furthermore, a U.S. factory was damaged in Texas during Hurricane Ike. Owing to the global economic slowdown, the production of acrylonitrile that is used in acrylic fibers and acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene
Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene
Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene is a common thermoplastic. Its melting point is approximately 105 °C ....

 (ABS) resins decreased. Because acetonitrile is a byproduct in the production of acrylonitrile
Acrylonitrile
Acrylonitrile is the chemical compound with the formula C3H3N. This pungent-smelling colorless liquid often appears yellow due to impurities. It is an important monomer for the manufacture of useful plastics. In terms of its molecular structure, it consists of a vinyl group linked to a nitrile...

, its production has also decreased. The global shortage of acetonitrile continued through early 2009.

Toxicity


Acetonitrile has only a modest toxicity in small doses. It can be metabolised
Metabolism
Metabolism is the set of chemical reactions that happen in the cells of living organisms to sustain life. These processes allow organisms to grow and reproduce, maintain their structures, and respond to their environments. Metabolism is usually divided into two categories...

 to produce hydrogen cyanide, which is the source of the observed toxic effects. Generally the onset of toxic effects is delayed, due to the time required for the body to metabolize acetonitrile to cyanide (generally about 2–12 hours).

Cases of acetonitrile poisoning in humans (or, to be more specific, of cyanide poisoning after exposure to acetonitrile) are rare but not unknown, by inhalation, ingestion and (possibly) by skin absorption. The symptoms, which do not usually appear for several hours after the exposure, include breathing difficulties, slow pulse rate, nausea, and vomiting: Convulsions and coma can occur in serious cases, followed by death from respiratory failure. The treatment is as for cyanide poisoning
Cyanide poisoning
Cyanide poisoning occurs when a living organism is exposed to a compound that produces cyanide ions when dissolved in water. Common poisonous cyanide compounds include hydrogen cyanide gas and the crystalline solids potassium cyanide and sodium cyanide...

, with oxygen
Oxygen
Oxygen is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. Its name derives from the Greek roots ὀξύς and -γενής , because at the time of naming, it was mistakenly thought that all acids required oxygen in their composition...

, sodium nitrite
Sodium nitrite
Sodium nitrite is the inorganic compound with the chemical formula NaNO2. It is a white to slight yellowish crystalline powder that is very soluble in water and is hygroscopic...

, and sodium thiosulfate
Sodium thiosulfate
Sodium thiosulfate , also spelled sodium thiosulphate, is a colorless crystalline compound that is more familiar as the pentahydrate, Na2S2O3•5H2O, an efflorescent, monoclinic crystalline substance also called sodium hyposulfite or “hypo.”...

 among the most commonly-used remedies.

It has been used in formulations for nail polish remover, despite its low but significant toxicity. Acetone
Acetone
Acetone is the organic compound with the formula 2CO, a colorless, mobile, flammable liquid, the simplest example of the ketones.Acetone is miscible with water and serves as an important solvent in its own right, typically as the solvent of choice for cleaning purposes in the laboratory...

 and ethyl acetate
Ethyl acetate
Ethyl acetate is the organic compound with the formula CH3COOCH2CH3. This colorless liquid has a characteristic sweet smell and is used in glues, nail polish removers, and cigarettes...

 are often preferred as safer for domestic use, and acetonitrile has been banned in cosmetic products in the European Economic Area
European Economic Area
The European Economic Area was established on 1 January 1994 following an agreement between the member states of the European Free Trade Association and the European Community, later the European Union . Specifically, it allows Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway to participate in the EU's Internal...

 since March 2000.

Metabolism and excretion

Compound Brain cyanide concentration (µg/kg) Oral (mg/kg)
Acetonitrile 28±5 2460
Propionitrile
Propionitrile
Propanenitrile, Propionitrile or ethyl cyanide, is a nitrile with the molecular formula C2H5CN. It is a clear liquid with an ethereal, sweet odor.-Production:...

508±84 40
Butyronitrile
Butyronitrile
Butyronitrile or butanenitrile or propyl cyanide, is a nitrile with the formula C3H7CN. This colorless liquid is miscible with most polar organic solvents. It is mainly used as a precursor to the poultry drug amprolium....

437±106 50
Malononitrile
Malononitrile
Malononitrile, also propanedinitrile, is a nitrile, with formula CH22. Malononitrile is relatively acidic, with an pKa of 11 in water...

649±209 60
Acrylonitrile
Acrylonitrile
Acrylonitrile is the chemical compound with the formula C3H3N. This pungent-smelling colorless liquid often appears yellow due to impurities. It is an important monomer for the manufacture of useful plastics. In terms of its molecular structure, it consists of a vinyl group linked to a nitrile...

395±106 90
Potassium cyanide
Potassium cyanide
Potassium cyanide is an inorganic compound with the formula KCN. This colorless crystalline compound, similar in appearance to sugar, is highly soluble in water. Most KCN is used in gold mining, organic synthesis, and electroplating. Smaller applications include jewelry for chemical gilding and...

748±200 10
Ionic cyanide concentrations measured in the brains of Sprague-Dawley rats one hour after oral administration of an of various nitriles.

In common with other nitrile
Nitrile
A nitrile is any organic compound that has a -C≡N functional group. The prefix cyano- is used interchangeably with the term nitrile in industrial literature. Nitriles are found in many useful compounds, one example being super glue .Inorganic compounds containing the -C≡N group are not called...

s, acetonitrile can be metabolised
Metabolism
Metabolism is the set of chemical reactions that happen in the cells of living organisms to sustain life. These processes allow organisms to grow and reproduce, maintain their structures, and respond to their environments. Metabolism is usually divided into two categories...

 in microsome
Microsome
In cell biology, microsomes are vesicle-like artifacts re-formed from pieces of the endoplasmic reticulum when eukaryotic cells are broken-up in the laboratory; by definition, microsomes are not ordinarily present in living cells....

s, especially in the liver, to produce hydrogen cyanide, as was first shown by Pozzani et al. in 1959. The first step in this pathway is the oxidation of acetonitrile to glycolonitrile
Glycolonitrile
Glycolonitrile, also called hydroxyacetonitrile or formaldehyde cyanohydrin, is the organic compound with the formula HOCH2CN. It is the simplest cyanohydrin and it is derived from formaldehyde...

 by an NADPH-dependent cytochrome P450 monooxygenase
Monooxygenase
Monooxygenases are enzymes that incorporate one hydroxyl group into substrates in many metabolic pathways. In this reaction, two atoms of dioxygen are reduced to one hydroxyl group and one H2O molecule by the concomitant oxidation of NADH.-Classification:...

. The glycolonitrile then undergoes a spontaneous decomposition to give hydrogen cyanide and formaldehyde
Formaldehyde
Formaldehyde is an organic compound with the formula CH2O. It is the simplest aldehyde, hence its systematic name methanal.Formaldehyde is a colorless gas with a characteristic pungent odor. It is an important precursor to many other chemical compounds, especially for polymers...

.

The metabolism of acetonitrile is much slower than that of other nitriles, which accounts for its relatively low toxicity. Hence, one hour after administration of a potentially lethal dose, the concentration of cyanide in the rat brain was one-twentieth that for a propionitrile
Propionitrile
Propanenitrile, Propionitrile or ethyl cyanide, is a nitrile with the molecular formula C2H5CN. It is a clear liquid with an ethereal, sweet odor.-Production:...

 dose 60 times lower (see table).

The relatively slow metabolism of acetonitrile to hydrogen cyanide allows more of the cyanide produced to be detoxified within the body to thiocyanate
Thiocyanate
Thiocyanate is the anion [SCN]−. It is the conjugate base of thiocyanic acid. Common derivatives include the colourless salts potassium thiocyanate and sodium thiocyanate. Organic compounds containing the functional group SCN are also called thiocyanates...

 (the rhodanese pathway). It also allows more of the acetonitrile to be excreted unchanged before it is metabolised. The main pathways of excretion are by exhalation and in the urine.

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