Sulfuric acid, also known as oil of vitriol, is a mineral acid composed of sulfur, oxygen, and hydrogen. It is a colorless, odorless, and viscous liquid that is miscible with water. Pure sulfuric acid does not occur naturally due to its strong affinity to water vapor, but it is hygroscopic and readily absorbs water vapor from the air. Concentrated sulfuric acid is highly corrosive towards other materials, including rocks and metals, due to its oxidant and dehydrating properties. Phosphorus pentoxide is an exception, as it dehydrates sulfuric acid to sulfur trioxide.
When added to water, sulfuric acid releases heat, which should not be performed, as the heat released may boil the solution. It can cause severe acidic chemical burns and secondary thermal burns due to dehydration. Dilute sulfuric acid is less hazardous without its oxidative and dehydrating properties, but it should still be handled with care for its acidity.
Sulfuric acid is a crucial commodity chemical in the chemical industry, used in fertilizer manufacturing, mineral processing, oil refining, wastewater processing, and chemical synthesis. It has a wide range of end applications, including domestic acidic drain cleaners, electrolytes in lead-acid batteries, dehydrating compounds, and cleaning agents. Sulfuric acid can be obtained by dissolving sulfur trioxide in water.
The study of vitriols, hydrated sulfates of various metals forming glassy minerals from which sulfuric acid can be derived, began in ancient times. The Greek physician Dioscorides and the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder, Galen, and the Hellenistic alchemical works of Zosimos of Panopolis, the treatise Phisica et Mystica, and the Leyden papyrus X all contributed to the understanding of vitriol's origins and properties.
Medieval Islamic chemists, such as Jabir ibn Hayyan, Abu Bakr al-Razi, Ibn Sina, and Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al-Watwat, extensively experimented with the distillation of various substances, including vitriols. In one recipe recorded in his Kitāb al-Asrār, al-Razi may have created sulfuric acid without being aware of it. This work refers multiple times to Jabir ibn Hayyan's Book of Seventy (Liber de septuaginta), one of the few Arabic Jabir works that were translated into Latin.
An anonymous Latin work attributed to Aristotle, al-Razi, or Ibn Sina, speaks of an 'oil' (oleum) obtained through the distillation of iron(II) sulfate (green vitriol), which was likely 'oil of vitriol' or sulfuric acid. This work is believed to be an original composition in Latin, although it may also have been a translation from the Arabic.
An anonymous Karshuni manuscript containing a compilation taken from several authors and dating from before c. 1100 AD mentions three recipes for sulfuric acid. One of them runs as follows:
The water of vitriol and sulphur which is used to irrigate the drugs: yellow vitriol three parts, yellow sulphur one part, grind them and distil them in the manner of rose-water.
Sulfuric acid was called 'oil of vitriol' by medieval European alchemists because it was prepared by roasting iron(II) sulfate or green vitriol in an iron retort. The first allusions to it in works that are definitely European in origin appear in the thirteenth century AD, as for example in the works of Vincent of Beauvais, in the Compositum de Compositis ascribed to Albertus Magnus, and in pseudo-Geber's Summa perfectionis.
Producing sulfuric acid from sulfur was first introduced by German-Dutch chemist Johann Glauber in the seventeenth century. John Roebuck adapted this method to produce sulfuric acid in lead-lined chambers in 1746 in Birmingham, which allowed the effective industrialization of sulfuric acid production. This process, called the lead chamber process or "chamber process," remained the standard for sulfuric acid production for almost two centuries.
The distillation of pyrite reached a 65% concentration by John Roebuck's process, but later refinements by French chemist Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac and British chemist John Glover improved concentration to 78%. However, the expense of this process prevented the large-scale use of concentrated sulfuric acid.
In 1831, British vinegar merchant Peregrine Phillips patented the contact process, which was a far more economical process for producing sulfur trioxide and concentrated sulfuric acid. Today, nearly all of the world's sulfuric acid is produced using this method.
The CAS Number of Sulfuric Acid is 7664-93-9
The Molecular Formula of Sulfuric Acid is H2O4S
The Molecular Mass of Sulfuric Acid is 98.08
The SMILES Notation of Sulfuric Acid is O=S(=O)(O)O
The InChI Notation of Sulfuric Acid is InChI=1S/H2O4S/c1-5(2,3)4/h(H2,1,2,3,4)