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Sulfuric acid is a very important commodity chemical, and indeed, a nation's sulfuric acid production is a good indicator of its industrial strength. World production in 2004 was about 180 million
, with the following geographic distribution: Asia 35%, North America (including Mexico) 24%, Africa 11%, Western Europe 10%, Eastern Europe and Russia 10%, Australia and Oceania 7%, South America 7%. Most of this amount (≈60%) is consumed for fertilizers, particularly superphosphates, ammonium phosphate and ammonium sulfates. About 20% is used in chemical industry for production of detergents, synthetic resins, dyestuffs, pharmaceuticals, petroleum catalysts, insecticides and
, as well as in various processes such as oil well acidicizing, aluminium reduction, paper sizing, water treatment. About 6% of uses are related to
and include paints,
, printing inks, coated fabrics and paper, and the rest is dispersed into a multitude of applications such as production of explosives,
, acetate and viscose textiles, lubricants, non-ferrous metals and batteries.
Industrial production of chemicals
The major use for sulfuric acid is in the "wet method" for the production of
, used for manufacture of
. In this method, phosphate rock is used, and more than 100 million tonnes are processed annually. This raw material is shown below as
, though the exact composition may vary. This is treated with 93% sulfuric acid to produce
. The HF is removed as
. The overall process can be represented as:
+ HF + 3
, an important nitrogen fertilizer, is most commonly produced as a byproduct from
supplying the iron and steel making plants. Reacting the
produced in the thermal decomposition of
with waste sulfuric acid allows the ammonia to be crystallized out as a salt (often brown because of iron contamination) and sold into the agro-chemicals industry.
Another important use for sulfuric acid is for the manufacture of
, also known as paper maker's alum. This can react with small amounts of soap on
fibers to give gelatinous aluminium
, which help to coagulate the pulp fibers into a hard paper surface. It is also used for making
, which is used at
out impurities, as well as to improve the taste of the
is made by reacting
with sulfuric acid:
Sulfuric acid is also important in the manufacture of
is a series of thermo-chemical processes used to obtain
. It consists of three chemical reactions whose net reactant is
and whose net products are hydrogen and
. Step one of cycle is the
→ 2 HI +
2 HI →
The sulfur and
compounds are recovered and reused, hence the consideration of the process as a cycle. This process is
and must occur at high temperatures, so energy in the form of heat has to be supplied.
The sulfur-iodine cycle has been proposed as a way to supply hydrogen for a
. It does not require
like current methods of
. But note that all of the available energy in the hydrogen so produced is supplied by the heat used to make it.
The sulfur-iodine cycle is currently being researched as a feasible method of obtaining hydrogen, but the concentrated, corrosive acid at high temperatures poses currently insurmountable safety hazards if the process were built on a large scale.
Industrial cleaning agent
Sulfuric acid is used in large quantities by the
industry to remove oxidation,
from rolled sheet and billets prior to sale to the
industry. Used acid is often recycled using a spent acid regeneration (SAR) plant. These plants combust spent acid with natural gas, refinery gas, fuel oil or other fuel sources. This combustion process produces gaseous
) which are then used to manufacture "new" sulfuric acid. SAR plants are common additions to metal smelting plants, oil refineries, and other industries where sulfuric acid is consumed in bulk, as operating a SAR plant is much cheaper than the recurring costs of spent acid disposal and new acid purchases.
) can be added to sulfuric acid to produce
, a powerful but very toxic cleaning solution with which substrate surfaces can be cleaned. Piranha solution is typically used in the microelectronics industry, and also in laboratory settings to clean glassware.
Sulfuric acid is used for a variety of other purposes in the chemical industry. For example, it is the usual acid catalyst for the conversion of
, used for making
. It is used for making
is used in
refining, for example as a catalyst for the reaction of
, a compound that raises the
(petrol). Sulfuric acid is also often used as a dehydrating or oxidising agent in industrial reactions, such as the dehydration of various sugars to form solid carbon.
usually contain sulfuric acid at a high concentration which turns a piece of
red and chars it instantly, demonstrating both the strong acidic nature and dehydrating property.
Sulfuric acid acts as the electrolyte in
+ 2 e
+ 4 H
+ 2 e
+ 2 H
can be used to dissolve grease, hair and even tissue paper inside water pipes.
+ 4 H
+ 2 H
Sulfuric acid at high concentrations is frequently the major ingredient in
acidic drain cleaners
which are used to remove
, etc. Similar to their
, such drain openers can dissolve fats and proteins via
. Moreover, as concentrated sulfuric acid has a strong dehydrating property, it can remove tissue paper via dehydrating process as well. Since the acid may react with water vigorously, such acidic drain openers should be added slowly into the pipe to be cleaned.
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