What is an acetate? (with photos)

Acetate nail polish remover.

An acetate is a chemical compound derived from acetic acid, or common household vinegar, the product of wine fermentation. The chemical structure of the acid consists of a methyl group (CH 3 ) attached to a carboxylic acid group (COOH). When the carboxylic acid hydrogen of acetic acid is removed, the remainder, CH 3 COO-, is called “acetate” (short for -Ac). There are organic and inorganic forms of acetate. An example of the former is ethyl ester, or oily nail polish remover, while sodium is an inorganic acetate. One of the best known and most commercially important polymers is plastic polyvinyl acetate (PVA).

Sodium acetate can be used to give French fries a vinegary flavor.

These acetic acid derivatives find very diverse applications. Along with its more important use as a buffering agent, sodium acetate can be found in a hospital setting, where it is used in the intravenous treatment of the low-sodium metabolic condition, hyponatremia. It is widely used as a flavoring agent in foods, including convenience treats such as salt and vinegar potato chips. Interestingly, the same compound can be used to make an unusual shape of a hand warmer or heating pad. In waste handling, sodium acetate is used to neutralize water contaminated with sulfuric acid through the exchange reaction: NaAc + H 2 SO 4 → Na 2 SO 4 + HAc, or sodium acetate plus sulfuric acid gives sulfate of sodium plus acetic acid.

Acetic acid can be used in the preparation of varnishes.

A class of chemical reactions that are very important in nature is the acetate biosynthesis reaction. In this process, the chemical complexity of the molecules is increased through the enzymatic addition of acetic acid molecules, usually mediated by bacteria. This process is invoked to replace certain more expensive synthetic reactions, particularly in the flavor industry. One example is the production of banana oil, which can be manufactured using an engineered bacterium, Esicherichia coli. Just understanding the process also proves valuable, allowing for continued and successful research into the preservation of delicate strawberry esters through the use of controlled atmosphere (CA).

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Cellulose nitrate was once the standard film variety used by the film industry – until about 1940. This substance is unstable and highly flammable; Cellulose nitrate fires are difficult to extinguish and produce hazardous gases, including corrosive nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. Many important films produced on cellulose nitrate were lost forever due to degradative oxidation. Newer film stock employs cellulose acetate, so-called “security film”. Unfortunately, even this enhanced film is subject to degradation, although it can be preserved for over a century if stored in cool, dry conditions.

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