Industrial Uses for Sulphuric Acid

Sulfuric acid (H2SO4) is an extremely corrosive liquid that is viscous, colorless and odorless. Since its discovery, it has been employed in a wide variety of uses around the globe. It is a key component in batteries, wastewater treatment, ore production, and fertilizer creation. Sixty-five percent of all fertilizers available on the market today are created from a combination of it and other chemicals.

Sulfuric acid was discovered in the 8th century by an alchemist named Jabir Ibn Hayyan. When sulfur compounds are burned, sulfur dioxide gas is left behind. When sulfur dioxide gas is heated to 450 degrees, the combination turns into sulfur trioxide. Jabir Ibn Hayyan mixed sulfur trioxide with water to create sulfuric acid. A century later, Ibn Zakariya al-Razi, a Persian physician and alchemist, continued studying the acid and discovered it had the ability to destroy iron and copper oxide.

Due to the acid’s unstable properties, it is essential for those combining sulfuric acid with water to add it to the water and not the other way around. If water is poured into sulfuric acid, a volatile explosion of boiling water can be created. Though the acid is non-flammable, it can create hydrogen gas, which is highly volatile.

According to Florida State College at Jacksonville, about 65 percent of the world’s sulfuric acid is used to manufacture agricultural fertilizers. To produce ammonium sulfate fertilizers and phosphate fertilizers, the chemical reacts with ammonia to create a form of ammonium nitrate used in the fertilizers. Sulfuric acid(CAS No. 7664-93-9) also converts insoluble calcium phosphate into soluble mixtures of compounds, such as Ca(H2PO4)2 and 2CaSO4.2H2O, which can be crushed and used as “superphosphate” fertilizers.

Lead-acid storage batteries for cars and other vehicles are some of the few consumer products that contain sulfuric acid. Often called “battery acid” or “electrolyte,” a generic term used to describe non-metallic substances that conduct electricity when dissolved in water, sulfuric acid is quite dangerous, and should only be handled by trained, authorized professionals. These batteries can weigh upward of 60 lbs., and carrier lifts are often used to move batteries that contain sulfuric acid in auto shops.