Do we actually need sulfuric acid to make trinitrotoluene? TNT's formula is $\ce{C7H5N3O6}$ so we just need toluene($\ce{C7H8}$) and nitric acid($\ce{HNO3}$). If we mix them we get TNT, and water($\ce{H2O}$)

$$\ce{C7H8 + 3HNO3 → C7H5N3O6 + 3H2O}$$

But Wikipedia states we need sulfuric acid. Why?

  • $\begingroup$ Please check an answer as accepted if it has answered your question. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn
    Sep 11 at 6:29

1 Answer 1


Sulfuric acid is needed in order for a good electrophile to form. Sulfuric acid protonates nitric acid to form the nitronium ion (water molecule is lost). The nitronium ion is a very good electrophile and is open to attack. Without sulfuric acid the reaction would not occur. Hence, a nitrating mixture of concentrated nitric and sulfuric acids is used to nitrate toluene to mono-, di- and ultimately to trinitrotoluene.

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