Deprotonation equilibrium of acetic acid in water

Cyclic dimer of acetic acid; dashed green lines represent hydrogen bonds
In solid acetic acid, the molecules form chains, individual molecules being interconnected by hydrogen bonds.[15] In the vapour at 120 °C (248 °F), dimers can be detected. Dimers also occur in the liquid phase in dilute solutions in non-hydrogen-bonding solvents, and a certain extent in pure acetic acid,[16] but are disrupted by hydrogen-bonding solvents. The dissociation enthalpy of the dimer is estimated at 65.0–66.0 kJ/mol, and the dissociation entropy at 154–157 J mol−1 K−1.[17] Other carboxylic acids engage in similar intermolecular hydrogen bonding interactions.[18]

Solvent properties
Liquid acetic acid is a hydrophilic (polar) protic solvent, similar to ethanol and water. With a moderate relative static permittivity (dielectric constant) of 6.2, it dissolves not only polar compounds such as inorganic salts and sugars, but also non-polar compounds such as oils as well as polar solutes. It is miscible with polar and non-polar solvents such as water, chloroform, and hexane. With higher alkanes (starting with octane), acetic acid is not completely miscible, and its miscibility declines with longer n-alkanes.[19] The solvent and miscibility properties of acetic acid make it a useful industrial chemical, for example, as a solvent in the production of dimethyl terephthalate.[7]

At physiological pHs, acetic acid is usually fully ionised to acetate.

The acetyl group, formally derived from acetic acid, is fundamental to all forms of life. When bound to coenzyme A, it is central to the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats. Unlike longer-chain carboxylic acids (the fatty acids), acetic acid does not occur in natural triglycerides. However, the artificial triglyceride triacetin (glycerine triacetate) is a common food additive and is found in cosmetics and topical medicines.[20]

Acetic acid is produced and excreted by acetic acid bacteria, notably the genus Acetobacter and Clostridium acetobutylicum. These bacteria are found universally in foodstuffs, water, and soil, and acetic acid is produced naturally as fruits and other foods spoil. Acetic acid is also a component of the vaginal lubrication of humans and other primates, where it appears to serve as a mild antibacterial agent.[21]


Purification and concentration plant for acetic acid in 1884
Acetic acid is produced industrially both synthetically and by bacterial fermentation. About 75% of acetic acid made for use in the chemical industry is made by the carbonylation of methanol, explained below.[7] The biological route accounts for only about 10% of world production, but it remains important for the production of vinegar because many food purity laws require vinegar used in foods to be of biological origin. Other processes are methyl formate isomerization, conversion of syngas to acetic acid, and gas phase oxidation of ethylene and ethanol.[22] Acetic acid is often a side product of different reactions, i.e. during heterogeneous catalytic acrylic acid synthesis[23][24][25] or fermentative lactic acid production.[26] As of 2003–2005, total worldwide production of virgin acetic acid[27] was estimated at 5 Mt/a (million tonnes per year), approximately half of which was produced in the United States. European production was approximately 1 Mt/a and declining, while Japanese production was 0.7 Mt/a. Another 1.5 Mt were recycled each year, bringing the total world market to 6.5 Mt/a.[28][29] Since then the global production has increased to 10.7 Mt/a (in 2010), and further; however, a slowing in this increase in production is predicted.[30] The two biggest producers of virgin acetic acid are Celanese and BP Chemicals. Other major producers include Millennium Chemicals, Sterling Chemicals, Samsung, Eastman, and Svensk Etanolkemi.[31]

Methanol carbonylation
Most acetic acid is produced by methanol carbonylation. In this process, methanol and carbon monoxide react to produce acetic acid according to the equation:

Methanol formylation.png
The process involves iodomethane as an intermediate, and occurs in three steps. A catalyst, metal carbonyl, is needed for the carbonylation (step 2).[32]

CH3OH + HI → CH3I + H2O
Two related processes for the carbonylation of methanol: the rhodium-catalyzed Monsanto process, and the iridium-catalyzed Cativa process. The latter process is greener and more efficient[33] and has largely supplanted the former process, often in the same production plants. Catalytic amounts of water are used in both processes, but the Cativa process requires less, so the water-gas shift reaction is suppressed, and fewer by-products are formed.

By altering the process conditions, acetic anhydride may also be produced on the same plant using the rhodium catalysts.[34]

Acetaldehyde oxidation
Prior to the commercialization of the Monsanto process, most acetic acid was produced by oxidation of acetaldehyde. This remains the second-most-important manufacturing method, although it is usually not competitive with the carbonylation of methanol. The acetaldehyde can be produced by hydration of acetylene. This was the dominant technology in the early 1900s.[35]

Light naphtha components are readily oxidized by oxygen or even air to give peroxides, which decompose to produce acetic acid according to the chemical equation, illustrated with butane:

2 C4H10 + 5 O2 → 4 CH3CO2H + 2 H2O
Such oxidations require metal catalyst, such as the naphthenate salts of manganese, cobalt, and chromium.

The typical reaction is conducted at temperatures and pressures designed to be as hot as possible while still keeping the butane a liquid. Typical reaction conditions are 150 °C (302 °F) and 55 atm.[36] Side-products may also form, including butanone, ethyl acetate, formic acid, and propionic acid. These side-products are also commercially valuable, and the reaction conditions may be altered to produce more of them where needed. However, the separation of acetic acid from these by-products adds to the cost of the process.[37]

Under similar conditions and using similar catalysts as are used for butane oxidation, the oxygen in air to produce acetic acid can oxidize acetaldehyde.[37]

2 CH3CHO + O2 → 2 CH3CO2H
Using modern catalysts, this reaction can have an acetic acid yield greater than 95%. The major side-products are ethyl acetate, formic acid, and formaldehyde, all of which have lower boiling points than acetic acid and are readily separated by distillation.[37]

Ethylene oxidation
Acetaldehyde may be prepared from ethylene via the Wacker process, and then oxidised as above.

In more recent times, chemical company Showa Denko, which opened an ethylene oxidation plant in Ōita, Japan, in 1997, commercialised a cheaper single-stage conversion of ethylene to acetic acid.[38] The process is catalyzed by a palladium metal catalyst supported on a heteropoly acid such as silicotungstic acid. Similar process use the same metal catalyst on silicotungstic acid and silica:[39]

C2H4 + O2 → CH3CO2H
It is thought to be competitive with methanol carbonylation for smaller plants (100–250 kt/a), depending on the local price of ethylene. The approach will be based on utilizing a novel selective photocatalytic oxidation technology for the selective oxidation of ethylene and ethane to acetic acid. Unlike traditional oxidation catalysts, the selective oxidation process will use UV light to produce acetic acid at ambient temperatures and pressure.

Oxidative fermentation
For most of human history, acetic acid bacteria of the genus Acetobacter have made acetic acid, in the form of vinegar. Given sufficient oxygen, these bacteria can produce vinegar from a variety of alcoholic foodstuffs. Commonly used feeds include apple cider, wine, and fermented grain, malt, rice, or potato mashes. The overall chemical reaction facilitated by these bacteria is:

C2H5OH + O2 → CH3COOH + H2O
A dilute alcohol solution inoculated with Acetobacter and kept in a warm, airy place will become vinegar over the course of a few months. Industrial vinegar-making methods accelerate this process by improving the supply of oxygen to the bacteria.[40]

The first batches of vinegar produced by fermentation probably followed errors in the winemaking process. If must is fermented at too high a temperature, acetobacter will overwhelm the yeast naturally occurring on the grapes. As the demand for vinegar for culinary, medical, and sanitary purposes increased, vintners quickly learned to use other organic materials to produce vinegar in the hot summer months before the grapes were ripe and ready for processing into wine. This method was slow, however, and not always successful, as the vintners did not understand the process.[41]

One of the first modern commercial processes was the "fast method" or "German method", first practised in Germany in 1823. In this process, fermentation takes place in a tower packed with wood shavings or charcoal. The alcohol-containing feed is trickled into the top of the tower, and fresh air supplied from the bottom by either natural or forced convection. The improved air supply in this process cut the time to prepare vinegar from months to weeks.[42]

Nowadays, most vinegar is made in submerged tank culture, first described in 1949 by Otto Hromatka and Heinrich Ebner.[43] In this method, alcohol is fermented to vinegar in a continuously stirred tank, and oxygen is supplied by bubbling air through the solution. Using modern applications of this method, vinegar of 15% acetic acid can be prepared in only 24 hours in batch process, even 20% in 60-hour fed-batch process.[41]

Anaerobic fermentation
Species of anaerobic bacteria, including members of the genus Clostridium or Acetobacterium can convert sugars to acetic acid directly without creating ethanol as an intermediate. The overall chemical reaction conducted by these bacteria may be represented as:

C6H12O6 → 3 CH3COOH
These acetogenic bacteria produce acetic acid from one-carbon compounds, including methanol, carbon monoxide, or a mixture of carbon dioxide and hydrogen:

2 CO2 + 4 H2 → CH3COOH + 2 H2O
This ability of Clostridium to metabolize sugars directly, or to produce acetic acid from less costly inputs, suggests that these bacteria could produce acetic acid more efficiently than ethanol-oxidizers like Acetobacter. However, Clostridium bacteria are less acid-tolerant than Acetobacter. Even the most acid-tolerant Clostridium strains can produce vinegar in concentrations of only a few per cent, compared to Acetobacter strains that can produce vinegar in concentrations up to 20%. At present, it remains more cost-effective to produce vinegar using Acetobacter, rather than using Clostridium and concentrating it. As a result, although acetogenic bacteria have been known since 1940, their industrial use is confined to a few niche applications.[44]