Oxygen difluoride

Oxygen difluoride is a chemical compound with the formula OF2. As predicted by VSEPR theory, the molecule adopts a bent molecular geometry. It is strong oxidizer and has attracted attention in rocketry for this reason. With a boiling point of −144.75 °C, OF2 is the most volatile (isolable) triatomic compound. The compound is one of many known oxygen fluorides.

Oxygen difluoride was first reported in 1929; it was obtained by the electrolysis of molten potassium fluoride and hydrofluoric acid containing small quantities of water. The modern preparation entails the reaction of fluorine with a dilute aqueous solution of sodium hydroxide, with sodium fluoride as a side-product:

It is a covalently bonded molecule with a bent molecular geometry and a F-O-F bond angle of 103 degrees. Its powerful oxidizing properties are suggested by the oxidation number of +2 for the oxygen atom instead of its normal −2.

Above 200 °C, OF2 decomposes to oxygen and fluorine by a radical mechanism.

OF2 reacts with many metals to yield oxides and fluorides. Nonmetals also react: phosphorus reacts with OF2 to form PF5 and POF3; sulfur gives SO2 and SF4; and unusually for a noble gas, xenon reacts (at elevated temperatures) yielding XeF4 and xenon oxyfluorides.

Oxygen difluoride reacts very slowly with water to form hydrofluoric acid:

It can oxidize sulphur dioxide to sulfur trioxide and elemental fluorine:

However, in the presence of UV radiation, the products are sulfuryl fluoride (SO2F2) and pyrosulfuryl fluoride (S2O5F2):

Oxygen difluoride is considered an unsafe gas due to its oxidizing properties. Hydrofluoric acid produced by the hydrolysis of OF2 with water is highly corrosive and toxic, capable of causing necrosis, leaching calcium from the bones and causing cardiovascular damage, among a host of other insidious effects.

In Robert L. Forward’s science fiction novel Camelot 30K, oxygen difluoride was used as a biochemical solvent by fictional life forms living in the solar system’s Kuiper belt. While OF2 would be a solid at 30 K, the fictional alien lifeforms were described as endothermic, maintaining elevated body temperatures and liquid OF2 blood by radiothermal heating.

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