Isocyanic acid

Isocyanic acid is a chemical compound with the formula HNCO, discovered in 1830 by Liebig and Wöhler.[4] This colourless substance is volatile and poisonous, with a boiling point of 23.5 °C. Isocyanic acid is the simplest stable chemical compound that contains carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen, the four most commonly found elements in organic chemistry and biology.

Isocyanic acid
Isocyanic acid 3D balls.png
IUPAC name
Isocyanic acid
Other names
3D model (JSmol)
ECHA InfoCard 100.109.068
Molar mass 43.03 g/mol
Appearance Colorless liquid or gas (b.p. near room temperature)
Density 1.14 g/cm3 (20 °C)
Melting point −86 °C (−123 °F; 187 K)[3]
Boiling point 23.5 °C (74.3 °F; 296.6 K)
Solubility Soluble in benzene, toluene, ether
Conjugate acid Oxomethaniminium[2]
Conjugate base Cyanate
Main hazards Poisonous
Except where otherwise noted, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C [77 °F], 100 kPa).
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Infobox references

Preparation and reactionsEdit

Isocyanic acid can be made by protonation of the cyanate anion, such as from salts like potassium cyanate, by either gaseous hydrogen chloride or acids such as oxalic acid.[5]

H+ + NCO- → HNCO

HNCO also can be made by the high-temperature thermal decomposition of cyanuric acid, a trimer.

C3H3N3O3 → 3 HNCO

Isocyanic acid hydrolyses to carbon dioxide and ammonia:

HNCO + H2O → CO2 + NH3

At sufficiently high concentrations, isocyanic acid oligomerizes to give cyanuric acid and cyamelide, a polymer. These species usually are easily separated from liquid- or gas-phase reaction products. Dilute solutions of isocyanic acid are stable in inert solvents, e.g. ether and chlorinated hydrocarbons.[6]

Isocyanic acid reacts with amines to give ureas (carbamides):


This reaction is called carbamylation.

HNCO adds across electron-rich double bonds, such as vinylethers, to give the corresponding isocyanates.

Isocyanic acid is also present in various forms of smoke, including smog and cigarette smoke. It was detected using mass spectrometry, and easily dissolves in water, posing a health risk to the lungs.[7]

Isocyanic acid, HNCO, is a Lewis acid whose free energy, enthalpy and entropy changes for its 1:1 association with a number of bases in carbon tetrachloride solution at 25°C have been reported.[8] The acceptor properties of HNCO are compared with other Lewis acid in the ECW model.

Isomers: Cyanic acid and fulminic acidEdit

Low-temperature photolysis of solids containing HNCO has been shown to make H-O-C≡N, known as cyanic acid or hydrogen cyanate; it is a tautomer of isocyanic acid.[9] Pure cyanic acid has not been isolated, and isocyanic acid is the predominant form in all solvents.[6] Sometimes information presented for cyanic acid in reference books is actually for isocyanic acid.[citation needed]

Cyanic and isocyanic acids are isomers of fulminic acid (H-C=N-O), an unstable compound.[10]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Cyanamide also has this name, and for which it is more systematically correct
  2. ^ "Oxomethaniminium | CH2NO | ChemSpider". Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  3. ^ Pradyot Patnaik. Handbook of Inorganic Chemicals. McGraw-Hill, 2002, ISBN 0-07-049439-8
  4. ^ Liebig, J.; Wöhler, F. (1830). "Untersuchungen über die Cyansäuren". Ann. Phys. 20 (11): 394. Bibcode:1830AnP....96..369L. doi:10.1002/andp.18300961102.
  5. ^ Fischer, G.; Geith, J.; Klapötke, T. M.; Krumm B. (2002). "Synthesis, Properties and Dimerization Study of Isocyanic Acid" (PDF). Z. Naturforsch. 57b (1): 19–25.
  6. ^ a b A. S. Narula, K. Ramachandran “Isocyanic Acid” in Encyclopedia of Reagents for Organic Synthesis, 2001, John Wiley & Sons, New York. doi:10.1002/047084289X.ri072m Article Online Posting Date: April 15, 2001.
  7. ^ Preidt, Robert. "Chemical in Smoke May Pose Health Risk". MyOptumHealth. AccuWeather. Retrieved 14 September 2011.
  8. ^ Nelson, J. (1970) Hydrogen-bonded complexes of isocyanic acid: Infrared spectra and thermodynamic measurements. Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Molecular Spectroscopy 26,109-120.
  9. ^ Jacox, M.E.; Milligan, D.E. (1964). "Low-Temperature Infrared Study of Intermediates in the Photolysis of HNCO and DNCO". Journal of Chemical Physics. 40 (9): 2457–2460. Bibcode:1964JChPh..40.2457J. doi:10.1063/1.1725546.
  10. ^ Kurzer, Frederick (2000). "Fulminic Acid in the History of Organic Chemistry". Journal of Chemical Education. 77 (7): 851–857. Bibcode:2000JChEd..77..851K. doi:10.1021/ed077p851.

Further readingEdit

  • Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, 65th. Edition, CRC Press (1984)

External linksEdit