What is Sulfuric Acid?
Sulfuric acid is a mineral liquid that is used to make hundreds of compounds in the chemical industry.
Sulfuric acid is universally recognized for its diverse range of applications. An important chemical in the industrial field, it is used to create many different products and goods, and is found in several different manufacturing processes. It is a ubiquitous ingredient across many laboratories and industrial facilities.
Sulfuric Acid Chemical Properties: Solubility, Molar Mass and Molecular Density
Sulfuric acid (H₂SO₄) is a colorless, mineral liquid that contains hydrogen, sulfur, and oxygen.
In its purest form, sulfuric acid is a highly corrosive liquid with a pH of 0.5 and is miscible with water at all concentrations. Sulfuric acid has a molar mass of 98.079 g/mol, a molecular density of 1.84 kg/L (compared to water at 1 kg/L) and a boiling point of 337 degrees Celsius.
Sulfuric acid is also a very dehydrating oxidant. This means that in addition to being highly acidic, it will also strip water away from any substances or surfaces it comes into contact with. Sulfuric acid is also hygroscopic, which means that it will even absorb water from the air.
Caution when using Sulfuric Acid!
Extreme caution should always be exercised when handling sulfuric acid in any concentration. It has much stronger corrosive properties than similar strong acids like nitric and hydrochloric acid. Upon contact with human skin, sulfuric acid in its purest form can cause both chemical and thermal burns. It decomposes lipids and proteins when it touches any living tissue. If it were to come into contact with the eyes, it could cause permanent blindness as it would potentially destroy the corneas. Ingestion into the human body could even yield potentially fatal results. Proper PPE (personal protective equipment) must be worn at all times and all safety precautions must be diligently adhered to when handling sulfuric acid.
Acid must also be stored properly in containers made with nonreactive glass materials. Solutions of sulfuric acid with molarity equal or stronger to 1.5 M should be labeled “Corrosive”. Solutions with molarity less than 1.5 M, but greater than 0.5 M should be labeled “Irritant”. Even when mixed with water, the solution can be dangerous as it produces an exothermic reaction (creates heat) when mixed with water. Proper labeling, storage, and handling of sulfuric acid will ensure a safe working environment for both materials and users.
What is Sulfuric Acid Used For?
Sulfuric acid has many uses among a broad expanse of industries and is one of the most important industrial chemicals. In almost any manufactured good, the use of sulfuric acid could be traced back to some step of the manufacturing process.
Top 5 uses of Sulfuric Acid:
- Chemical manufacturing
Sulfuric acid can be used as a component when creating other useful acids such as hydrochloric acid and nitric acid. It can also be used to create synthetic detergents, pigments and dyes, and sulfate salts.
- Metal processing
It is also widely used in processing metals. Metal processing is where metal is heated, cooled, and shaped to form any particular product made out of steel, iron, or copper (i.e. transportation, computer parts, construction, piping, housing materials, etc.). Sulfuric acid is used in a mixture for what is known as “steel pickling”, which is a surface treatment process that is used to remove any rust or carbon impurities to finish the metal and is one of the final and most important stages of metal processing.
Sulfuric acid is used in combination with lead to produce a reaction that generates enough electrons for large batteries (like the ones used in automobiles and tractors) to produce the necessary voltage. This is sometimes commonly referred to as “battery acid”, and sulfuric acid is an essential component of the solution that produces the battery energy.
- Domestic and industrial cleaning products
It is also a commonly found ingredient in many cleaning products due to its corrosive nature. Its strength and acidity make it a powerful cleaning agent, and it is often found in domestic and industrial versions of products like drain unblockers, cleaners, detergents, and chemical sprays.
- Agriculture and fertilizer
Sulfuric acid’s largest use is in the majority of the world's agriculture. In the fertilizer industry, sulfuric acid is used to create inorganic phosphate fertilizers such as ammonium sulfate and superphosphate of lime. These are both widely used fertilizers in the majority of commercial agriculture.
Sulfuric acid can be used in several applications across many different industries. In addition to its more commercial uses, it is also found as a part of many different laboratory and pharmaceutical processes. Sulfuric acid can be used in the manufacturing process of certain medicinal drugs that aid in the alkylation process of DNA. MB grade sulfuric acid is a common component in laboratory work and analysis, and even in lab classrooms for educational experiments and titrations.
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