Difference Between Ionic Covalent And Metallic Hydrides

Hydrides, compounds formed between hydrogen and other elements, play a crucial role in various fields of chemistry. These compounds are categorized into three main types: ionic, covalent, and metallic hydrides. Each type has unique properties and applications that make them essential in different scientific and industrial contexts.

Ionic hydrides are formed when hydrogen bonds with highly electropositive elements, typically alkali and alkaline earth metals. Covalent hydrides, on the other hand, are created when hydrogen bonds with non-metals, sharing electrons to form stable molecules. Metallic hydrides involve hydrogen atoms inserted into the metal lattice, creating a unique set of properties different from the other two types.

Understanding the differences between ionic, covalent, and metallic hydrides is vital for their effective application in various industries. From hydrogen storage and synthesis to catalysis and advanced materials, hydrides are indispensable in modern chemistry. By examining their bonding nature, formation mechanisms, and properties, we can appreciate their significance and potential.

Types of Hydrides

Hydrides are compounds that consist of hydrogen bonded with other elements. They can be categorized into three main types: ionic hydrides, covalent hydrides, and metallic hydrides. Each type has distinct properties and uses, making them essential in various scientific and industrial applications.

Ionic Hydrides

Definition and Formation

Ionic hydrides are formed when hydrogen bonds with highly electropositive metals, such as alkali and alkaline earth metals. In these compounds, hydrogen exists as a hydride ion (H-), carrying a negative charge. The metal atoms donate electrons to hydrogen, creating an ionic bond. This process typically occurs under high-temperature conditions, where metals like sodium (Na) and calcium (Ca) react with hydrogen gas.


Ionic hydrides are characterized by several unique properties:

  • Solid at Room Temperature: These compounds are usually crystalline solids at room temperature.
  • High Melting Points: They possess high melting points due to the strong ionic bonds.
  • Reactivity with Water: Ionic hydrides react vigorously with water to produce hydrogen gas and a corresponding metal hydroxide.
  • Conductivity: They conduct electricity in molten or dissolved states, due to the presence of free ions.


Some common examples of ionic hydrides include:

  • Sodium Hydride (NaH): Used in organic synthesis as a strong base.
  • Calcium Hydride (CaH2): Utilized as a drying agent and a hydrogen source.
  • Potassium Hydride (KH): Applied in various chemical reactions as a powerful base.


Ionic hydrides have several important applications:

  • Chemical Synthesis: Used as strong bases and reducing agents in organic chemistry.
  • Hydrogen Storage: Serve as hydrogen sources in portable applications due to their ability to release hydrogen gas upon reaction with water.
  • Drying Agents: Employed to remove moisture from solvents and gases.

Covalent Hydrides

Definition and Formation

Covalent hydrides are formed when hydrogen bonds with non-metals through covalent bonds, where electrons are shared between atoms. These hydrides are usually found with elements such as carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and oxygen (O). The bonding involves the mutual sharing of electrons, creating stable molecules.

ALSO READ:  Difference Between Molecular Docking And Scoring


Covalent hydrides exhibit several key properties:

  • Molecular Structures: They exist as discrete molecules with specific geometric arrangements.
  • Lower Melting and Boiling Points: Compared to ionic hydrides, covalent hydrides generally have lower melting and boiling points due to weaker intermolecular forces.
  • Volatility: Many covalent hydrides are volatile and can exist as gases or liquids at room temperature.
  • Solubility: These hydrides often dissolve in organic solvents rather than water.


Notable examples of covalent hydrides include:

  • Methane (CH4): A simple hydrocarbon used as a fuel and in chemical synthesis.
  • Ammonia (NH3): A nitrogen hydride used in fertilizers and industrial processes.
  • Water (H2O): An oxygen hydride essential for all known forms of life.


Covalent hydrides are widely used in various fields:

  • Fuel: Methane is a major component of natural gas, a key energy source.
  • Agriculture: Ammonia is critical for producing fertilizers that enhance crop yields.
  • Industrial Processes: Water is used as a solvent, coolant, and reactant in numerous industrial applications.

Metallic Hydrides

Definition and Formation

Metallic hydrides form when hydrogen atoms are absorbed into the metal lattice of transition metals, creating a solid solution. These hydrides are unique because hydrogen atoms occupy interstitial sites within the metal structure, leading to distinctive properties.


Metallic hydrides have several notable properties:

  • Metallic Nature: They retain metallic characteristics such as conductivity and malleability.
  • Reversible Hydrogen Storage: They can absorb and release hydrogen gas reversibly, making them suitable for hydrogen storage.
  • Thermal Stability: These hydrides are stable at high temperatures.


Examples of metallic hydrides include:

  • Palladium Hydride (PdHx): Known for its high hydrogen storage capacity.
  • Titanium Hydride (TiH2): Used in pyrotechnics and as a hydrogen source.
  • Magnesium Hydride (MgH2): Investigated for hydrogen storage in fuel cell applications.


Metallic hydrides are utilized in several key areas:

  • Hydrogen Storage: Essential for hydrogen fuel cells and energy storage systems.
  • Catalysis: Used as catalysts in various chemical reactions.
  • Metal Processing: Applied in metal refining and alloy production.

Key Differences

Bonding Nature

The bonding nature distinguishes the three types of hydrides:

  • Ionic Hydrides: Feature ionic bonds between metals and hydride ions.
  • Covalent Hydrides: Formed through covalent bonds involving shared electrons.
  • Metallic Hydrides: Hydrogen atoms are embedded in the metal lattice.

Formation Mechanisms

The mechanisms of formation vary among the hydrides:

  • Ionic Hydrides: Formed by the transfer of electrons from metals to hydrogen.
  • Covalent Hydrides: Created through electron sharing between hydrogen and non-metals.
  • Metallic Hydrides: Formed by the absorption of hydrogen into the metal lattice.

Physical Properties

The physical properties differ significantly:

  • Ionic Hydrides: Solid with high melting points and conductivity in molten or dissolved states.
  • Covalent Hydrides: Molecules with lower melting and boiling points, often volatile.
  • Metallic Hydrides: Retain metallic properties and are thermally stable.

Chemical Properties

The chemical properties also vary:

  • Ionic Hydrides: React vigorously with water and acids.
  • Covalent Hydrides: Exhibit specific reactivities based on their molecular structures.
  • Metallic Hydrides: Can release and absorb hydrogen reversibly, useful in catalysis and hydrogen storage.

Reactivity and Stability

Hydrides exhibit various reactivities and stabilities depending on their type. Understanding these aspects is crucial for their practical use in different applications.

Reactivity with Water

Ionic Hydrides: These hydrides react vigorously with water, producing hydrogen gas and a metal hydroxide. This reaction is highly exothermic.

  • Example: Sodium hydride reacts with water to form sodium hydroxide and hydrogen gas.
    • Equation: NaH+H2O→NaOH+H2NaH+H2​O→NaOH+H2​
ALSO READ:  Difference Between Benzoic Acid And Sodium Benzoate

Covalent Hydrides: Their reactivity with water varies. Some covalent hydrides like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide dissolve in water, forming weak acids or bases. Others, like methane, are inert to water.

  • Example: Ammonia dissolves in water to form ammonium hydroxide.
    • Equation: NH3+H2O→NH4OHNH3​+H2​O→NH4​OH

Metallic Hydrides: These hydrides are generally less reactive with water compared to ionic hydrides. Their reactivity depends on the metal and the hydride’s stability.

  • Example: Palladium hydride does not react significantly with water under normal conditions.

Thermal Stability

Ionic Hydrides: They are thermally stable at high temperatures. However, they decompose upon heating to release hydrogen gas.

  • Example: Calcium hydride decomposes at high temperatures.
    • Equation: CaH2→Ca+H2CaH2​→Ca+H2​

Covalent Hydrides: Thermal stability varies widely. Simple covalent hydrides like methane are stable, while others like phosphine decompose at lower temperatures.

  • Example: Phosphine decomposes upon heating.
    • Equation: 4PH3→P4+6H24PH3​→P4​+6H2​

Metallic Hydrides: Generally stable, but can release hydrogen gas when heated, making them useful for hydrogen storage.

  • Example: Magnesium hydride releases hydrogen upon heating.
    • Equation: MgH2→Mg+H2MgH2​→Mg+H2​

Reactivity with Acids and Bases

Ionic Hydrides: React strongly with acids to release hydrogen gas.

  • Example: Sodium hydride reacts with hydrochloric acid.
    • Equation: NaH+HCl→NaCl+H2NaH+HCl→NaCl+H2​

Covalent Hydrides: Their reactivity with acids and bases depends on their nature. Ammonia, a weak base, reacts with acids to form ammonium salts.

  • Example: Ammonia reacts with hydrochloric acid.
    • Equation: NH3+HCl→NH4ClNH3​+HCl→NH4​Cl

Metallic Hydrides: Reactivity varies; some can react with acids to release hydrogen, while others are less reactive.

  • Example: Magnesium hydride reacts with hydrochloric acid.
    • Equation: MgH2+2HCl→MgCl2+2H2MgH2​+2HCl→MgCl2​+2H2​

Applications and Uses

Hydrides have diverse applications in various fields, from industrial processes to advanced technologies.

Industrial Applications

Ionic Hydrides: Used in chemical synthesis and as strong bases in various reactions.

  • Example: Sodium hydride is widely used in organic chemistry to deprotonate acids and generate carbanions.

Covalent Hydrides: Utilized in numerous industrial processes, from fuel production to fertilizers.

  • Example: Ammonia is essential in the production of fertilizers through the Haber process.

Metallic Hydrides: Applied in metal processing, catalysis, and hydrogen storage.

  • Example: Titanium hydride is used in pyrotechnics and as a hydrogen source in metal processing.

Role in Hydrogen Storage

Ionic Hydrides: Serve as hydrogen sources due to their ability to release hydrogen gas upon reaction with water.

  • Example: Calcium hydride is used in portable hydrogen generators.

Covalent Hydrides: Not typically used for hydrogen storage due to their stability, but some, like borohydrides, are investigated for this purpose.

  • Example: Sodium borohydride is explored for hydrogen storage applications.

Metallic Hydrides: Ideal for hydrogen storage due to their reversible hydrogen absorption and release properties.

  • Example: Palladium hydride is known for its high hydrogen storage capacity, making it valuable in fuel cell technology.

Use in Synthesis and Catalysis

Ionic Hydrides: Act as strong bases and reducing agents in organic synthesis.

  • Example: Sodium hydride is used to synthesize various organic compounds by deprotonation reactions.

Covalent Hydrides: Many covalent hydrides, like silanes, are used in the synthesis of other compounds.

  • Example: Silane (SiH4) is used in the semiconductor industry for silicon deposition.

Metallic Hydrides: Function as catalysts in various chemical reactions due to their ability to absorb and release hydrogen.

  • Example: Nickel hydride catalysts are used in hydrogenation reactions in the food and chemical industries.
ALSO READ:  Difference Between Chandelier And Pendant Light

Comparative Analysis

Summary of Differences

  • Ionic Hydrides: Formed with electropositive metals, have ionic bonds, and are highly reactive with water.
  • Covalent Hydrides: Formed with non-metals, have covalent bonds, and exhibit a wide range of physical properties.
  • Metallic Hydrides: Formed with transition metals, have metallic characteristics, and are useful in hydrogen storage.

Similarities and Overlaps

  • Hydrogen Content: All hydrides contain hydrogen atoms bonded to other elements.
  • Reactivity: Each type shows unique reactivity patterns, useful in various chemical reactions.
  • Applications: All hydrides have important industrial and technological applications, though their roles vary.

Practical Implications

Understanding the differences and similarities among hydrides helps in selecting the right type for specific applications. For instance:

  • Ionic Hydrides: Ideal for applications requiring strong bases or hydrogen generation.
  • Covalent Hydrides: Suitable for fuels, fertilizers, and industrial chemicals.
  • Metallic Hydrides: Best for hydrogen storage and catalytic processes.

Future Trends

Advances in Hydride Research

Research on hydrides is advancing rapidly, focusing on improving their properties and discovering new applications.

  • Hydrogen Storage: Developing hydrides with higher storage capacities and better reversibility.
  • New Materials: Synthesizing novel hydrides with unique properties for advanced technological applications.

Emerging Applications

Hydrides are finding new uses in cutting-edge fields such as renewable energy and advanced materials.

  • Energy Storage: Hydrides are crucial in developing efficient and safe hydrogen storage systems for fuel cells.
  • Medical Applications: Investigating hydrides for potential use in medical treatments and diagnostics.

Potential Innovations

Future innovations in hydride technology could revolutionize various industries, from energy to materials science.

  • Green Energy: Hydrides could play a key role in developing sustainable energy solutions, reducing reliance on fossil fuels.
  • Advanced Manufacturing: New hydride-based materials could lead to stronger, lighter, and more efficient products.


What are ionic hydrides?

Ionic hydrides are compounds formed when hydrogen bonds with highly electropositive metals, such as alkali and alkaline earth metals. These hydrides are characterized by their ionic bonds, where hydrogen acts as a hydride ion (H-). Ionic hydrides are typically solid at room temperature, have high melting points, and are often used in chemical synthesis and hydrogen storage.

How do covalent hydrides differ from ionic hydrides?

Covalent hydrides differ from ionic hydrides in their bonding nature and formation. While ionic hydrides form through the transfer of electrons resulting in ionic bonds, covalent hydrides involve the sharing of electrons between hydrogen and non-metal atoms. This sharing creates stable molecules with specific geometric structures, such as methane (CH4) or ammonia (NH3). Covalent hydrides generally have lower melting and boiling points compared to ionic hydrides.

What are metallic hydrides used for?

Metallic hydrides are used primarily for hydrogen storage and as catalysts in various chemical reactions. These hydrides form when hydrogen atoms are absorbed into the metal lattice, allowing for reversible hydrogen release and uptake. This property makes metallic hydrides valuable in fuel cell technology and other applications requiring efficient hydrogen storage and delivery.

Can hydrides be dangerous?

Yes, some hydrides can be dangerous due to their reactivity. For example, ionic hydrides react vigorously with water, releasing hydrogen gas, which is flammable and can cause explosions. Proper handling and storage are essential to ensure safety when working with these compounds. Understanding their properties and potential hazards is crucial for safe application.

Why are hydrides important in modern chemistry?

Hydrides are important in modern chemistry due to their versatility and wide range of applications. They play a crucial role in hydrogen storage, catalysis, and the synthesis of various compounds. Hydrides also contribute to advancements in energy storage solutions, particularly in the development of hydrogen fuel cells, which are seen as a potential clean energy source for the future.


Hydrides, with their diverse properties and applications, are fundamental to numerous scientific and industrial processes. By distinguishing between ionic, covalent, and metallic hydrides, we can harness their unique characteristics for various practical uses.

The study and application of hydrides continue to advance, promising new innovations and solutions in fields such as energy storage, material science, and chemical synthesis. Understanding their differences and potentials will pave the way for future technological advancements and sustainable development.

Leave a Comment