JUL 17, 2018 5:01 PM PDT

The Chemistry in Airbags

WRITTEN BY: Daniel Duan

The name "airbag" can be deceiving because the bag is not exactly filled with air. Instead, this life-saving device is filled with nitrogen gas, which is produced in a swift reaction by a compound known as sodium azide.

Sodium azide is a stable salt at ambient temperature. Under the circumstance of vehicle collisions, the trigger mechanism would heat up the powder, which leads to a sudden release a large amount of nitrogen within milliseconds. Based on the chemical equation 2 NaN3 --> 2 Na + 3 N2, a cup of the compound can easily produce enough nitrogen gas to fill a standard airbag, which is close to 70 liters.

But the other product of the reaction sodium is not a benign chemical. In fact, it is so reactive it can light up when in touch with water. Therefore, in the airbags retarding agents are mixed in with sodium azide to quench the potentially hazardous sodium. After all, no one wishes to be safe from a vehicle collision but get a chemical burn afterward.

Source: ACS Reactions via Youtube

About the Author
  • Graduated with a bachelor degree in Pharmaceutical Science and a master degree in neuropharmacology, Daniel is a radiopharmaceutical and radiobiology expert based in Ottawa, Canada. With years of experience in biomedical R&D, Daniel is very into writing. He is constantly fascinated by what's happening in the world of science. He hopes to capture the public's interest and promote scientific literacy with his trending news articles. The recurring topics in his Chemistry & Physics trending news section include alternative energy, material science, theoretical physics, medical imaging, and green chemistry.
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