Hydrofluoric acid


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  • Hydrofluoric acid has a variety of uses in industry and research. It is used as a starting material or intermediate in industrial chemistry, mining, refining, glass finishing, silicon chip manufacturing, and in cleaning.

Oil refining

  • In a standard oil refinery process known as alkylationisobutane is alkylated with low-molecular-weight alkenes (primarily a mixture of propylene and butylene) in the presence of the strong acid catalyst derived from hydrofluoric acid. The catalyst protonates the alkenes (propylene, butylene) to produce reactive carbocations, which alkylate isobutane. The reaction is carried out at mild temperatures (0 and 30 °C) in a two-phase reaction.

Production of organofluorine compounds

Production of fluorides

  • Most high-volume inorganic fluoride compounds are prepared from hydrofluoric acid. Foremost are Na3AlF6cryolite, and AlF3aluminium trifluoride. A molten mixture of these solids serves as a high-temperature solvent for the production of metallic aluminium. Given concerns about fluorides in the environment, alternative technologies are being sought. Other inorganic fluorides prepared from hydrofluoric acid include sodium fluoride and uranium hexafluoride.

Etchant and cleaning agent

Wet etching tanks
SiO2 + 4 HF → SiF4(g) + 2 H2O
SiO2 + 6 HF → H2SiF6 + 2 H2O
  • A 5% to 9% hydrofluoric acid gel is also commonly used to etch all ceramic dental restorations to improve bonding. For similar reasons, dilute hydrofluoric acid is a component of household rust stain remover, in car washes in "wheel cleaner" compounds, in ceramic and fabric rust inhibitors, and in water spot removers. Because of its ability to dissolve iron oxides as well as silica-based contaminants, hydrofluoric acid is used in pre-commissioning boilers that produce high-pressure steam.

Niche applications

  • Because of its ability to dissolve (most) oxides and silicates, hydrofluoric acid is useful for dissolving rock samples (usually powdered) prior to analysis. In similar manner, this acid is used in acid macerations to extract organic fossils from silicate rocks. Fossiliferous rock may be immersed directly into the acid, or a cellulose nitrate film may be applied (dissolved in amyl acetate), which adheres to the organic component and allows the rock to be dissolved around it.
  • Diluted hydrofluoric acid (1 to 3 %wt.) is used in the petroleum industry in a mixture with other acids (HCl or organic acids) in order to stimulate the production of water, oil, and gas wells specifically where sandstone is involved.
  • Hydrofluoric acid is also used by some collectors of antique glass bottles to remove so-called 'sickness' from the glass, caused by acids (usually in the soil the bottle was buried in) attacking the soda content of the glass.
  • Offset printing companies use hydrofluoric acid to remove unwanted images from printing plates. Felt-tip markers called "deletion pens" are available to make the process safer for the worker.