D29.1 Selection of a Suitable Buffer

A buffer solution moderates changes in pH because it contains both a weak acid that can react with added strong base and a weak base that can react with added strong acid. This leads to several criteria for selecting a suitable buffer solution for a given purpose.

  1. The pKa of the weak acid in the buffer should be close to the desired pH of the buffer solution. According to the Henderson-Hasselbalch equation, if the concentrations of weak acid and weak base are equal, the pH of the buffer solution equals the pKa of the weak acid involved.
  2. A buffer solution should have approximately equal concentrations of the weak acid and weak base. A  \dfrac{[\text{A}^{-}]_0}{[\text{HA}]_0} ratio of >10 or <0.1 makes for a poor buffer solution. Figure below shows how the pH of an acetic acid-acetate ion buffer increases as strong base is added. The initial pH is pKa = 4.74. When pH reaches 5.74, a change of 1 pH unit, the ratio  \dfrac{[\text{acetic acid}]}{[\text{acetate anion}]} = 0.11 = 11 \% . After that the pH increases more rapidly and the solution no longer provides significant buffering.
    A graph is shown with a horizontal axis labeled “Added m L of 0.10 M N a O H” which has markings and vertical gridlines every 10 units from 0 to 110. The vertical axis is labeled “p H” and is marked every 1 unit beginning at 0 extending to 11. A break is shown in the vertical axis between 0 and 4. A red curve is drawn on the graph which increases gradually from the point (0, 4.8) up to about (100, 7) after which the graph has a vertical section up to about (100, 11). The curve is labeled [ C H subscript 3 C O subscript 2 H ] is 11 percent of [ C H subscript 3 CO subscript 2 superscript negative].
    Figure: Buffering action. The graph, an illustration of buffering action, shows change of pH as an increasing amount of a 0.10-M NaOH solution is added to 100 mL of a buffer solution in which, initially, [CH3COOH] = [CH3COO] = 0.10 M.
  3. Larger amount (mol) of weak acid and weak base give a buffer with greater capacity.

When designing a buffer system, look for weak conjugate acid-base pairs that have pKa, weak acid near the desired pH. Then adjust the ratio of the weak base to weak acid concentrations to achieve the exact pH desired. Make certain that the concentrations of weak base and weak acid are large enough to react with the quantities of acid or base that might be added to the buffer solution.

Activity: Preparing a Buffer Solution with a Desired pH

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Chemistry 109 Fall 2021 Copyright © by John Moore; Jia Zhou; and Etienne Garand is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.