Sulfuric acid, chemically written as H2SO4, is a viscous and oily liquid chemical. There are many uses of this compound, as it is one of the least expensive acids in the world.
In the US, this acid is listed among the most essential or precursor chemicals by the Chemical Diversion and Trafficking Act. Thus, its sale, transfer, export, and import in US has to be regulated and monitored under the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Sulfuric Acid Facts
It is a strong mineral acid that is soluble in water. Its pure and concentrated variety does not occur naturally due to its affinity to water. It is also a part of acid rain, which is formed due to atmospheric oxidation of sulfur dioxide in presence of water.
H2SO4 is a diprotic acid, which means that it can donate 2 protons to a base. It can get ionized in water in two steps:
- H2SO4 + H2O (I) ↔ HSO4- (aq) + H3O+ (aq)
- HSO4- (aq) + H2O (I) ↔ SO4-2 (aq) + H3O+ (aq)
It can completely dissociate in water, as Ka approaches infinity, and hence, it is classified as a strong acid. It also can take part in redox reactions. It is a good drying agent that can chemically remove water molecules from a number of substances.
For example, C11H22O11 (sucrose molecule) can be completely dehydrated by removal of the eleven molecules of water by this acid. The end product is a black mass of carbon. If one accidentally spills H2SO4 on the skin, it begins to burn through the skin surface, and might even penetrate beneath it, if the chemical is in a concentrated form.
In 1800s, a German chemist called Baron Justus von Liebig discovered that sulfuric acid could be added to soil to increase the availability of phosphorous to the plants. When one cuts onions, it releases propanethiol S-oxide gas, which reaches our eyes.
Here, it reacts with water in the eyes to produce H2SO4. This is a caustic acid that causes the burning sensation in our eyes, which makes them blink and produce tears. Thus, the body's natural way to flush out the irritant acid is in the form of these tears.
- In the manufacturing of aluminum sulfate, which is used in the paper industry.
- In the manufacturing of chemotherapy drugs, which are used to damage the DNA of cancer cells.
- As a key ingredient in the topical ointment called Debacterol, which is used to treat canker sores and other skin infections.