phosphoric acid, any one of three chemical compounds made up of phosphorus, oxygen, and hydrogen (see acids and bases). The most common, orthophosphoric acid, H3PO4, is usually simply called phosphoric acid. Two molecules of it are formed by adding three molecules of water, H2O, to one molecule of phosphorus pentoxide (phosphoric anhydride, P2O5). It occurs as rhombic crystals or as a viscous liquid; both are deliquescent. The crystals melt at about 42°C. It has specific gravity 1.834 at 18°C, is soluble in alcohol, and is very soluble in water. It is a tribasic acid and forms orthophosphate salts with either one, two, or all three of the hydrogens replaced by some other positive ion. When it is heated to about 225°C, it dehydrates to form pyrophosphoric acid, H4P2O7; at still higher temperatures metaphosphoric acid, HPO3, is formed. Salts of pyrophosphoric acid are pyrophosphates; salts of metaphosphoric acid are metaphosphates. Phosphoric acid is prepared commercially by heating calcium phosphate rock with sulfuric acid; purer grades may be prepared by treating red phosphorus with nitric acid. It is used in pickling and rust-proofing metals, in acidifying jellies and beverages, and in preparing phosphate salts.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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