Exothermic reaction

An exothermic reaction is a chemical reaction that releases energy through light or heat. It is the opposite of an endothermic reaction.[1]

Expressed in a chemical equation: reactants → products + energy. Exothermic Reaction means "exo" (derived from the greek word: "έξω", literally translated to "out") meaning releases and "thermic" means heat. So the reaction in which there is release of heat with or without light is called exothermic reaction.


An exothermic reaction is a chemical reaction that releases heat. It gives net energy to its surroundings. That is, the energy needed to initiate the reaction is less than the energy released.[2]

When the medium in which the reaction is taking place collects heat, the reaction is exothermic. When using a calorimeter, the total amount of heat that flows into (or through) the calorimeter is the negative of the net change in energy of the system.

The absolute amount of energy in a chemical system is difficult to measure or calculate. The enthalpy change, ΔH, of a chemical reaction is much easier to work with. The enthalpy change equals the change in internal energy of the system plus the work needed to change the volume of the system against constant ambient pressure. A bomb calorimeter is very suitable for measuring the energy change, ΔH, of a combustion reaction. Measured and calculated ΔH values are related to bond energies by:

ΔH = (energy used in forming product bonds) − (energy released in breaking reactant bonds)

In an exothermic reaction, by definition, the enthalpy change has a negative value:

ΔH < 0

since a larger value (the energy released in the reaction) is subtracted from a smaller value (the energy used for the reaction). For example, when hydrogen burns:

2H2 (g) + O2 (g) → 2H2O (g)
ΔH = −483.6 kJ/mol of O2 [3]

In an adiabatic system, the temperature raise due to enthalpy change can be expressed as

ΔH298.15K = T1
Cp,pdT + T0
298 K

where ΔH298.15K is the standard enthalpy of reaction at 298K, T0 and T1 are the initial and final temperature of the system, respectively, and Cp,p and Cp,r are the heat capacities of the product and reactant, respectively.

Assuming the heat capacity of the system remains as a constant value Cp,p=Cp,r=Cp, the change of temperature ΔT=T1T0 can be expressed as

ΔH298.15K = T0T
Cp,pdT = ΔTCp,p

The most commonly available hand warmers make use of the oxidation of iron to achieve an exothermic reaction:

4Fe(s) + 3O2(g) → 2Fe2O3(s).

Examples of exothermic reactions

Other points to think about

  • The concept and its opposite number endothermic relate to the enthalpy change in any process, not just chemical reactions.
  • In endergonic reactions and exergonic reactions it is the sign of the Gibbs free energy that determines the equilibrium point, and not enthalpy. The related concepts endergonic and exergonic apply to all physical processes.
  • The conceptually related endotherm and ectotherm (or sometimes exotherm) are concepts in animal physiology.
  • In quantum numbers, when any excited energy level goes down to its original level for example: when n=4 fall to n=2, energy is released so, it is exothermic.
  • Where an exothermic reaction causes heating of the reaction vessel which is not controlled, the rate of reaction can increase, in turn causing heat to be evolved even more quickly. This positive feedback situation is known as thermal runaway. An explosion can also result from the problem.


Heat production or absorption in either a physical process or chemical reaction is measured using calorimetry. One common laboratory instrument is the reaction calorimeter, where the heat flow into or from the reaction vessel is monitored. The technique can be used to follow chemical reactions as well as physical processes such as crystallization and dissolution.

Energy released is measured in Joule per mole. The reaction has a negative ΔH(heat change) value due to heat loss. e.g.: -123 J/mol

See also


  1. Article written by Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D on exothermic and endothermic reactions "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-18. Retrieved 2016-04-05.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. "Endothermic and Exothermic Reactions". About Chemistry. 3 February 2013. Archived from the original on 18 March 2016. Retrieved 5 April 2016.
  3. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-07-08. Retrieved 2013-07-20.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. Yin, Xi; Wu, Jianbo; Li, Panpan; Shi, Miao; Yang, Hong (January 2016). "Self-Heating Approach to the Fast Production of Uniform Metal Nanostructures". ChemNanoMat. 2 (1): 37–41. doi:10.1002/cnma.201500123.
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