7.1.2 Liquid-Vapour Equilibrium

This equilibrium can be better understood if we consider the example of a transparent box carrying a U-tube with mercury (manometer). Drying agent like anhydrous calcium chloride (or phosphorus penta-oxide) is placed for a few hours in the box. After removing the drying agent by tilting the box on one side, a watch glass (or petri dish) containing water is quickly placed inside the box.

It will be observed that the mercury level in the right limb of the manometer slowly increases and finally attains a constant value, that is, the pressure inside the box increases and reaches a constant value. Also the volume of water in the watch glass decreases.

Initially there was no water vapour (or very less) inside the box. As water evaporated the pressure in the box increased due to addition of water molecules into the gaseous phase inside the box. The rate of evaporation is constant. However, the rate of increase in pressure decreases with time due to condensation of vapour into water.

Finally it leads to an equilibrium condition when there is no net evaporation. This implies that the number of water molecules from the gaseous state into the liquid state also increases till the equilibrium is attained i.e.,

rate of evaporation= rate of condensation

H2O(l) ⇔ H2O(vap)

At equilibrium, the pressure exerted by the water molecules at a given temperature remains constant and is called the equilibrium vapour pressure of water (or just vapour pressure of water); vapour pressure of water increases with temperature.

If the above experiment is repeated with methyl alcohol, acetone and ether, it is observed that different liquids have different equilibrium vapour pressures at the same temperature, and the liquid which has a higher vapour pressure is more volatile and has a lower boiling point.

If we expose three watch glasses containing separately 1mL each of acetone, ethyl alcohol, and water to atmosphere and repeat the experiment with different volumes of the liquids in a warmer room, it is observed that in all such cases the liquid eventually disappears and the time taken for complete evaporation depends on

(i) the nature of the liquid,

(ii) the amount of the liquid and

(iii) the temperature. When the watch glass is open to the atmosphere, the rate of evaporation remains constant but the molecules are dispersed into large volume of the room.

As a consequence the rate of condensation from vapour to liquid state is much less than the rate of evaporation. These are open systems and it is not possible to reach equilibrium in an open system.

Water and water vapour are in equilibrium position at atmospheric pressure (1.013 bar) and at 100°C in a closed vessel. The boiling point of water is 100°C at 1.013 bar pressure.

For any pure liquid at one atmospheric pressure (1.013 bar), the temperature at which the liquid and vapours are at equilibrium is called normal boiling point of the liquid. Boiling point of the liquid depends on the atmospheric pressure. It depends on the altitude of the place; at high altitude the boiling point decreases.

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