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Title: Acetonitrile  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Propionitrile, Oligonucleotide synthesis, Acid dissociation constant, Methyl isocyanide, Cyanide
Collection: Hazardous Air Pollutants, Nitriles, Solvents
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Skeletal formula of acetonitrile Skeletal formula of acetonitrile with all explicit hydrogens added
Ball and stick model of acetonitrile Spacefill model of acetonitrile
CAS number  YesY
ChemSpider  YesY
EC number
UN number 1648
RTECS number AL7700000
Beilstein Reference 741857
Gmelin Reference 895
Jmol-3D images Image 1
Molecular formula C2H3N
Molar mass 41.05 g mol−1
Appearance Colorless liquid
Density 786 mg mL−1
Melting point −46 to −44 °C; −51 to −47 °F; 227 to 229 K
Boiling point 81.3 to 82.1 °C; 178.2 to 179.7 °F; 354.4 to 355.2 K
Solubility in water Miscible
log P −0.334
Vapor pressure 9.71 kPa (at 20.0 °C)
kH 530 μmol Pa−1 kg−1
Acidity (pKa) 25
Basicity (pKb) −11
λmax 195 nm
Absorbance ≤0.10
Refractive index (nD) 1.344
heat capacity
91.69 J K−1 mol−1
Std molar
149.62 J K−1 mol−1
Std enthalpy of
40.16–40.96 kJ mol−1
Std enthalpy of
−1256.03–−1256.63 kJ mol−1
MSDS External MSDS
GHS pictograms The flame pictogram in the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) The exclamation-mark pictogram in the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS)
GHS signal word DANGER
GHS hazard statements H225, H302, H312, H319, H332
GHS precautionary statements P210, P280, P305+351+338
EU Index 608-001-00-3
EU classification Highly Flammable F Harmful Xn
R-phrases R11, R20/21/22, R36
S-phrases (S1/2), S16, S36/37
NFPA 704
Flash point 2.0 °C (35.6 °F; 275.2 K)
Explosive limits 4.4–16.0%
  • 2 g kg−1 (dermal, rabbit)
  • 2.46 g kg−1 (oral, rat)
Related compounds
Related alkanenitriles
Related compounds DBNPA
Supplementary data page
Structure and
n, εr, etc.
Phase behaviour
Solid, liquid, gas
Spectral data UV, IR, NMR, MS
Except where noted otherwise, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C (77 °F), 100 kPa)
 YesY   YesY/N?)

Acetonitrile is the chemical compound with the formula CH
. This colourless liquid is the simplest organic butadiene.[3]

In the laboratory, it is used as a medium-polarity solvent that is dielectric constant of 38.8. With a dipole moment of 3.92 D,[4] acetonitrile dissolves a wide range of ionic and nonpolar compounds and is useful as a mobile phase in HPLC and LC-MS. The N-C-C skeleton is linear with a short C-N distance of 1.16 Å.[5]

Acetonitrile was first prepared in 1847 by the French chemist Jean-Baptiste Dumas.[6]


  • Applications 1
    • Organic synthesis 1.1
    • Ligand in coordination chemistry 1.2
  • Production 2
    • Acetonitrile shortage in 2008–2009 2.1
  • Safety 3
    • Toxicity 3.1
      • Metabolism and excretion 3.1.1
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Acetonitrile is used mainly as a solvent in the purification of butadiene in refineries.

It is widely used in battery applications because of its relatively high dielectric constant and ability to dissolve electrolytes. For similar reasons it is a popular solvent in cyclic voltammetry.

Its ultraviolet transparency UV cutoff, low viscosity and low chemical reactivity make it a popular choice for high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC).

Acetonitrile plays a significant role as the dominant solvent used in the manufacture of DNA oligonucleotides from monomers.

Industrially, it is used as a solvent for the manufacture of pharmaceuticals and photographic film.[7]

Organic synthesis

Acetonitrile is a common two-carbon building block in

  • N3H2WebBook page for C
  • International Chemical Safety Card 0088
  • National Pollutant Inventory - Acetonitrile fact sheet
  • NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards
  • Chemical Summary for Acetonitrile (CAS No. 75-05-8), Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Simulation of acetonitrile

External links

  1. ^ "acetonitrile - Compound Summary". PubChem Compound. USA: National Center for Biotechnology Information. 16 September 2004. Identification. Retrieved 5 June 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Material Safety Data Sheet". 
  3. ^ a b [1], Ashford's Dictionary of Industrial Chemicals, Third edition, 2011, page 76.
  4. ^ Steiner, P. A., and Gordy, W., 1966, J. molec. Spectrosc., 21, 291.
  5. ^ Karakida, Ken-ichi, Tsutomu Fukuyama, and Kozo Kuchitsu. "Molecular Structures of Hydrogen Cyanide and Acetonitrile as Studied by Gas Electron Diffraction." Bulletin of the Chemical Society of Japan 47.2 (1974): 299-304.
  6. ^ Dumas (1847) "Action de l'acide phosphorique anhydre sur les sels ammoniacaux" (Action of anhydrous phosphoric acid on ammonium salts), Comptes rendus, 25: 383-384.
  7. ^ a b  
  8. ^ DiBiase, S. A.; Beadle, J. R.; Gokel, G. W., "Synthesis of α,β-Unsaturated Nitriles from Acetonitrile: Cyclohexylideneacetonitrile and Cinnamonitrile",  
  9. ^ a b c Philip Wexler, ed. (2005), Encyclopedia of Toxicology, Vol. 1 (2nd ed.), Elsevier, pp. 28–30,  
  10. ^ Pollak, Peter; Romeder, Gérard; Hagedorn, Ferdinand; Gelbke, Heinz-Peter (2000), Nitriles,  
  11. ^ US 4179462, Olive, G. & Olive, S., "Process for preparing acetonitrile", published 1979-12-18, assigned to Monsanto Company 
  12. ^ Lowe, Derek (2009), The Great Acetonitrile Shortage,  
  13. ^ A. Tullo. "A Solvent Dries Up". Chemical & Engineering News 86: 27.  
  14. ^ a b c  
  15. ^ a b c d e  
  16. ^ a b Greenberg, Mark (1999), Toxicological Review of Acetonitrile, Washington, D.C.:  
  17. ^ At least two cases have been reported of accidental poisoning of young children by acetonitrile-based nail polish remover, one of which was fatal: Caravati, EM; Litovitz, T (1988), "Pediatric cyanide intoxication and death from an acetonitrile-containing cosmetic",  
  18. ^ Twenty-Fifth Commission Directive 2000/11/EC of 10 March 2000 adapting to technical progress Annex II to Council Directive 76/768/EEC on the approximation of laws of the Member States relating to cosmetic products. OJEC L65 of 2000-03-14, pp. 22–25.
  19. ^ a b Ahmed, AE; Farooqui, MYH (1982), "Comparative toxicities of aliphatic nitriles", Toxicol. Lett. 12 (2–3): 157–64,  
  20. ^ Pozzani, UC; Carpenter, CP; Palm, PE; Weil, CS; Nair, JH (1959), "An investigation of the mammalian toxicity of acetonitrile", J. Occup. Med. 1 (12): 634–642,  


The relatively slow metabolism of acetonitrile to hydrogen cyanide allows more of the cyanide produced to be detoxified within the body to thiocyanate (the rhodanese pathway). It also allows more of the acetonitrile to be excreted unchanged before it is metabolised. The main pathways of excretion are by exhalation and in the urine.[14][15][16]

The metabolism of acetonitrile is much slower than that of other nitriles, which accounts for its relatively low toxicity. Hence, one hour after administration of a potentially lethal dose, the concentration of cyanide in the rat brain was one-twentieth that for a propionitrile dose 60 times lower (see table).[19]

In common with other nitriles, acetonitrile can be metabolised in microsomes, especially in the liver, to produce hydrogen cyanide, as was first shown by Pozzani et al. in 1959.[20] The first step in this pathway is the oxidation of acetonitrile to glycolonitrile by an NADPH-dependent cytochrome P450 monooxygenase. The glycolonitrile then undergoes a spontaneous decomposition to give hydrogen cyanide and formaldehyde.[14][15] Formaldehyde, a toxin and a carcinogen on its own, is further oxidized to formic acid, which is another source of toxicity.

Compound Brain cyanide concentration (µg/kg) Oral LD50 (mg/kg)
Acetonitrile 28±5 2460
Propionitrile 508±84 40
Butyronitrile 437±106 50
Malononitrile 649±209 60
Acrylonitrile 395±106 90
Potassium cyanide 748±200 10
Ionic cyanide concentrations measured in the brains of Sprague-Dawley rats one hour after oral administration of an LD50 of various nitriles.[19]

Metabolism and excretion

It has been used in formulations for nail polish remover, despite its low but significant toxicity.[17] Acetone and ethyl acetate are often preferred as safer for domestic use, and acetonitrile has been banned in cosmetic products in the European Economic Area since March 2000.[18]

Cases of acetonitrile poisoning in humans (or, to be more specific, of cyanide poisoning after exposure to acetonitrile) are rare but not unknown, by inhalation, ingestion and (possibly) by skin absorption.[15] The symptoms, which do not usually appear for several hours after the exposure, include breathing difficulties, slow pulse rate, nausea, and vomiting: Convulsions and coma can occur in serious cases, followed by death from respiratory failure. The treatment is as for cyanide poisoning, with oxygen, sodium nitrite, and sodium thiosulfate among the most commonly used remedies.[15]

Acetonitrile has only a modest toxicity in small doses.[9][14] It can be metabolised to produce hydrogen cyanide, which is the source of the observed toxic effects.[7][15][16] Generally the onset of toxic effects is delayed, due to the time required for the body to metabolize acetonitrile to cyanide (generally about 2–12 hours).[9]



Starting in October 2008, the worldwide supply of acetonitrile was low because Chinese production was shut down for the Olympics. Furthermore, a U.S. factory was damaged in Texas during Hurricane Ike.[12] Owing to the global economic slowdown, the production of acrylonitrile that is used in acrylic fibers and acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) resins decreased. Because acetonitrile is a byproduct in the production of acrylonitrile, its production has also decreased.[13] The global shortage of acetonitrile continued through early 2009.

Acetonitrile shortage in 2008–2009

Acetonitrile is a by-product from the manufacture of acrylonitrile. Most is combusted to support the intended process but an estimated several thousand tons are retained for the above-mentioned applications.[10] Production trends for acetonitrile thus generally follow those of acrylonitrile. Acetonitrile can also be produced by many other methods, but these are of no commercial importance as of 2002. Illustrative routes are by dehydration of acetamide or by hydrogenation of mixtures of carbon monoxide and ammonia.[11] The main distributors of acetonitrile in the world are: INEOS, Purification Technologies Inc, BioSolve BV, Carlo Erba Reagents, Panreac, J.T. Baker Chemical, VWR, Sigma Aldrich, and Petrolchem Trading Ltd. In 1992, 32.3 million pounds (14,700 t) of acetonitrile were produced in the US.


A related complex is [Cu(MeCN)4]+. The CH
groups in these complexes are rapidly displaced by many other ligands.

+ 2 CH

In ligand. For example, PdCl
is prepared by heating a suspension of (polymeric) palladium chloride in acetonitrile:

Ligand in coordination chemistry

[3].malononitrile affords cyanogen chloride Its reaction with [9], and α-napthaleneacetic acid.thiamine of many useful chemicals, including acetamidine hydrochloride, [8]

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