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Chemisorption (or chemical adsorption) is adsorption in which the forces involved are valence forces of the same kind as those operating in the formation of chemical compounds. The problem of distinguishing between chemisorption and physisorption is basically the same as that of distinguishing between chemical and physical interaction in general. No absolutely sharp distinction can be made and intermediate cases exist, for example, adsorption involving strong hydrogen bonds or weak charge transfer.

Some features which are useful in recognizing chemisorption include:

  1. the phenomenon is characterized by chemical specificity;
  2. changes in the electronic state may be detectable by suitable physical means (e.g. u.v., infrared or microwave spectroscopy, electrical conductivity, magnetic susceptibility);
  3. the chemical nature of the adsorptive(s) may be altered by surface dissociation or reaction in such a way that on desorption the original species cannot be recovered; in this sense chemisorption may not be reversible;
  4. the energy of chemisorption is of the same order of magnitude as the energy change in a chemical reaction between a solid and a fluid: thus chemisorption, like chemical reactions in general, may be exothermic or endothermic and the magnitudes of the energy changes may range from very small to very large;
  5. the elementary step in chemisorption often involves an activation energy;
  6. where the activation energy for adsorption is large (activated adsorption), true equilibrium may be achieved slowly or in practice not at all. For example in the adsorption of gases by solids the observed extent of adsorption, at a constant gas pressure after a fixed time, may in certain ranges of temperature increase with rise in temperature. In addition, where the activation energy for desorption is large, removal of the chemisorbed species from the surface may be possible only under extreme conditions of temperature or high vacuum, or by some suitable chemical treatment of the surface;
  7. since the adsorbed molecules are linked to the surface by valence bonds, they will usually occupy certain adsorption sites on the surface and only one layer of chemisorbed molecules is formed (monolayer adsorption).

Source: International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry