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Sulfuric Acid

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Matt Lubertazzi

Period 8


Sulfuric Acid

` Sulfuric acid has many applications, and is one of the top products of the chemical industry. World production in 2001 was 165 million tones, with an approximate value of $8 billion. There are many uses of sulfuric acid mostly in lead-acid batteries for cars and fertilizer for crops. To understand this chemical, however, we must look at the history of the substance and its importance to the United States.

Johann Van Helmont was the first to discover sulfuric acid in the 16th century. He discovered it by destructive distillation of green vitriol (ferrous sulfate) and by burning sulfur. The problem with Johann Van Helmonts discovery of sulfuric acid is it only had a 65 percent concentration. This was not good because it could be 100 percent concentration. French chemist Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac and British chemist John Glover improved the yield to 78 percent. However, the manufacture of some dyes and other chemical processes require a more concentrated product. Therefore, scientists had to come up with a different way to create sulfuric acid. They created a new way it was called the contact process this method was discovered in the 18th century.

The first process in creating sulfuric acid is known as the lead chamber process. These are the procedures for creating this acid. "First, hot sulfur dioxide gas enters the bottom of a reactor called a Glover tower. Secondly, it is washed with nitrous vitriol and mixed with nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide gases. Some of the sulfur dioxide becomes oxidized to sulfur trioxide and dissolved in the acid to form tower acid. From the Glover tower a mixture of gases is transferred to a lead-lined chamber where it is reacted with more water. The chamber may be a large, boxlike room or an enclosure in the form of a truncated cone. Lastly the reaction condenses on the walls and collects on the floor of the chamber." Giving us the compound, we know as sulfuric acid.

The next process is called the contact process. In 1831, British vinegar merchant Peregrine Phillips patented the contact process, which was a far more economical process for producing concentrated sulfuric acid. The contact process is the process factories use today. "In the beginning of this process, purified sulfur dioxide and air are mixed, heated to about 450oC, and passed over a catalyst; the sulfur dioxide is oxidized to sulfur trioxide. The catalyst is usually platinum on a silica carrier. The sulfur trioxide is cooled and passed through two towers. In the first tower, it is washed with oleum. Then in the second tower, it is washed with 97% sulfuric acid; 98% sulfuric acid is usually produced in this tower. Waste gases are usually discharged into the atmosphere." Acid of any desired concentration may be produced by mixing or diluting the products of this process. It is very important as to which level of concentration the sulfuric acid is at being that different concentrations levels pertain to different uses for the chemical.

The next important thing to do to understand sulfuric acid is to



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