Understanding Sulfuric Acid: production, uses and safety measures

Joanna Sikorska
7 min reading
Understanding Sulfuric Acid: production, uses and safety measures
Table of contents
  • Sulfuric Acid is a strong acid consisting of sulfur, oxygen and hydrogen.
  • It is commonly referred to as the “king of chemicals” due to its widespread use in a variety of industrial processes.
  • It is highly hygroscopic and very reactive and corrosive
  • Sulfuric Acid finds applications in fertilizer production, chemical production, water treatment, metal processing, and the food industry.



What is Sulfuric Acid?

Sulfuric Acid is a strong acid consisting of the elements sulfur, oxygen and hydrogen. It is commonly referred to as the ‘king of chemicals’ due to its extensive use in numerous industrial processes. In the past, Sulfuric Acid was also known as oil of vitriol.

Sulfuric Acid does not occur naturally due to its strong affinity for water vapor. Instead, it is produced synthetically.

Because of its properties, it is used in many different industries. Would you like to learn more about Sulfuric Acid and its applications? Then be sure to read on!

Sulfuric Acid production

On an industrial scale, Sulfuric Acid is produced by the conventional contact process or the wet Sulfuric Acid process.

In the conventional contact process, the first step is to burn sulfur to produce sulfur dioxide. The sulfur dioxide is then oxidized to sulfur trioxide, which is absorbed to form oleum. The oleum is diluted with water and concentrated Sulfuric Acid is obtained in this way.

In the wet Sulfuric Acid process, sulfur trioxide is reacted with water to form Sulfuric Acid.

Sulfuric Acid – properties

Sulfuric Acid It is a colorless, viscous and oily liquid, heavier than water. It is very reactive and corrosive. Sulfuric Acid mixes with water and releases a considerable amount of heat.

Sulfuric Acid is characterized by the fact that it is very hygroscopic and easily absorbs water vapor from the air. Sulfuric Acid is a powerful dehydrating agent because of its affinity for water – it has the ability to remove water molecules from other substances. Because it is very acidic, it also acts as a pH regulator.

Sulfuric Acid can occur in many concentrations and depends on what it is used for. For example, highly dilute Sulfuric Acid (10%) is a dehydrating agent and pH adjuster. In concentrations of 62-70%, on the other hand, it is used in the production of fertilizers.

Proper safety measures and handling procedures should always be followed when working with Sulfuric Acid, as it can cause severe burns in high concentrations. Therefore, it is important to wear protective clothing and protect your face.

What is Sulfuric Acid used for?

Sulfuric Acid finds extensive use in various industries due to its exceptional properties and reactivity. It finds its applications in:

  • The production of fertilizers – it plays a crucial role in the production of fertilizers, especially in the manufacture of superphosphate fertilizers. It is used to lower the pH of water and soil, improving the quality of the soil and promoting better plant growth.
  • Chemical manufacturing – Sulfuric Acid is used extensively in the production of various chemicals. It serves as an important raw material in the manufacture of detergents, pigments, dyes, and synthetic fibers. It is also used as a catalyst or reactant in the production of other inorganic acids such as Hydrochloric Acid  and Phosphoric Acid.
  • Water treatment – Sulfuric Acid is used in water treatment processes to remove solid particles and impurities. It ensures that the water returns to its neutral pH.
  • Metal processing – it is used for pickling and etching metals. It helps remove rust, oxides and scale from metal surfaces and prepares them for further processing.
  • The food industry – it acts as an acidity regulator and regulates pH to inhibit the growth of bacteria. Sulfuric Acid is mainly added to canned fruits and vegetables.

Do you want to learn more about most important raw materials and chemical intermediates and their applications? Then read our article!

Sulfuric Acid in agriculture

Sulfuric Acid in agriculture

Sulfuric Acid is a very important chemical in agriculture, more precisely – in the production of fertilizers. Phosphoric Acid, produced from Sulfuric Acid, is widely used in the production of calcium dihydrogen phosphate and ammonium phosphates – essential components of phosphate fertilizers. Sulfuric Acid is also used in the production of ammonium sulfate, an important fertilizer in areas where there is insufficient sulfur.

Sulfuric Acid is also used to lower the pH of alkaline soils. By adding the acid to the soil, it reacts with alkaline compounds and helps neutralize the pH, creating a more suitable environment for plant growth.

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