5 Facts About H2SO4 (Sulphuric Acid)

You may have heard of Sulphuric Acid, or H2SO4, with a negative connotation, as something dangerous or illicit. While it's true that Sulphuric Acid can be dangerous and has been used in the production of illegal drugs, it also has many productive industrial uses, and is found throughout the solar system. Here we'll go over some facts about this interesting chemical compound and its many uses. To put the corrosive properties of chemicals to good use, check out the list of the Best Acid Cleaners. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.

What Are Five Facts About Sulphuric Acid?

  1. It's been around since ancient times
  2. You won't just find it on Earth
  3. It is strictly controlled in the US and abroad
  4. It is highly corrosive and very dangerous to handle
  5. It can be used to create spectacular explosions

What Is Sulphuric Acid Made Of?

Sulphuric Acid's molecular formula is H2SO4, which means two hydrogen atoms, one sulfur atom, and four oxygen.

Is it Sulphuric Acid or Sulfuric Acid?

Both are acceptable. Depending on where you live, one spelling might be more popular, but either is fine.

While the United Nations Office On Drugs and Crime has listed it as a chemical frequently used in the illicit manufacture of narcotic substances, it is legal to purchase small amounts of sulphuric acid. There are also different grades of acid, ranging from battery acid, which is around 30% sulfuric acid, to 98%, which is much more potent. If you're thinking of pulling off any chemical reactions at home, make sure safety is a priority and always wear gloves and goggles. And if your kids are interested in science, perhaps it's best to start with something a little less dangerous, so read up on the Best Science Toys and the Best Chemistry Textbooks.

In Depth

H2S O4, more commonly known as sulphuric acid, is one of the most essential chemicals in the world. Around 231 million tons are produced internationally each year. It's a colorless hydrogen sulfate with no smell, and exists in a syrupy liquid state that has a high boiling temperature. It is a vital part of many household products that we use daily. This includes batteries, fertilizer, plastics, perfumes, glue, paint and much more. Sulphuric acid is also a key component for explosives such as TNT and nitroglycerin acid.

We've gathered 5 interesting facts about this often overlooked heavyweight of the chemical world.

#1. It's been around since ancient times. Vitriol was the name for a category of sheeny minerals that could yield acid. The name comes from the Latin word vitriolum, which means glassy. Sulphuric acid was often found in volcanic lakes. Ancient Sumerians kept lists of different vitriols they used. There are also records of archaic physicians and naturalists discussing its properties. This includes Roman born Pliny the Elder and the Greek physician Galen. In medieval alchemy, sulphuric acid was known as "oil of vitriol."

Ancient Sumerians kept lists of different vitriols they used.

Alchemists prepared it by roasting green vitriol, a different sulfate, in an iron device. Chemists began using methods to produce sulphuric acid on a large scale by the 1700s. In the 19th century, an efficient process was patented by a merchant named Peregrine Phillips. This method is still the most widely used procedure today.

#2. You won't just find it on Earth. In the upper atmosphere of Venus, sulphuric acid occurs naturally. Ultraviolet light from the Sun reacts with carbon dioxide, water vapor, and sulfur dioxide. It exists in a liquid form in the cooler, higher parts of the Venusian atmosphere, above thick clouds. These clouds produce acid rain, much the same way ours create drops of water. This happens in a weather cycle. The acid rain falls from the cooler levels down to the hotter layers.

On the planet's surface, it heats up and releases water vapor, which makes it more concentrated. Once it reaches a certain temperature, it decomposes into gas. This lighter state reacts with other chemicals, and rises on air currents back to repeat the cycle. Using infrared technology, NASA may have detected sulphuric acid on Europa. As one of Jupiter's biggest moons, Europa can be visible from Earth. While not all planetary scientists agree, some suspect the chemical could be located under the surface's icy crust in liquid form.

On the planet's surface, it heats up and releases water vapor, which makes it more concentrated.

#3. It is strictly controlled in the US and abroad. Sulphuric acid can be purchased in small quantities for innocent reasons, but it's used in the illegal manufacture of mood altering drugs and narcotics, such as methamphetamine and cocaine. As part of a robust effort to keep criminal activity involving sulphuric acid and other chemicals low, international coalitions were formed. The United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances is one of them. It was formed in 1988 as a response to a growing demand for recreational drugs in the developed world.

In addition to fighting organized crime and seizing laboratory equipment, the convention has a list of substances that are rigorously controlled.

#4. It is highly corrosive and very dangerous to handle. While it may seem harmless to look at, sulphuric acid is very hazardous in concentrated doses. When diluting it, you have to be very careful. If you add water directly, it will react and the acid could spatter. If it gets into your eyes, it can damage the retina and cause blindness. When in contact with uncovered skin, burns and irritation can occur. It can also be deadly if inhaled, causing nausea and affecting the lungs.

It is highly corrosive and very dangerous to handle.

Shortness of breath and coughing are common side effects of accidental inhalation. It can even erode the enamel on your teeth. If ingested, sulphuric acid can attack your spinal cord and optic nerves. It also increases the risk of cancer. When handling it, always practice rigid safety protocols.

#5. It can be used to create spectacular explosions. Sulphuric acid is highly reactive to other compounds. Many times, mixing it with something else creates an exothermic reaction. This means it produces light or heat. If you put potassium chlorate and sugar together, adding just a drop of sulphuric acid will create an instant, fiery explosion. When added to sugar, H2S O4 quickly dehydrates it and creates heat. The mixture then expands into a black, snakelike result. It's used in the making of nitroglycerin, which is extremely volatile.

These 5 facts are just some of the fascinating things to know about sulphuric acid. Its use throughout history is complicated and elaborate, and it is extremely important to the industrial world. There's plenty more to find out about the characteristics of this vital chemical.