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Sulfuric acid (H2SO4) is a highly corrosive strong mineral acid.

Sulfuric acid has a wide range of


applications including domestic acidic drain cleaner, electrolyte in lead-acid batteries and various
cleaning agents. It is also a central substance in the chemical industry. It is widely produced by
contact process.
Production of sulfuric acid by contact process
Nowadays, sulphuric acid is prepared by contact process all over the world. Preparation of
sulphuric acid by contact process is based upon the catalytic oxidation of sulfur dioxide (SO2) to
sulfur trioxide (SO3).
The Contact Process involves the following steps:
To make sulfur dioxide
converting sulfur dioxide into sulfur trioxide (the reversible reaction at the heart of
the process)
Converting sulfur trioxide into concentrated sulfuric acid.
To make sulfur dioxide
Sulfur dioxide can be obtained by burning sulfur in an excess of air
S (s) + O2 (g) SO2 (g)
Sulfur dioxide can also be obtained by heating sulfide ores like pyrite in an excess of air:
4FeS2(s) + 11O2(g) 2Fe2O3(s )+ 8SO2(g)
In either case, an excess of air is used so that the sulfur dioxide produced is already mixed with
oxygen for the next stage.

Converting sulfur dioxide into sulfur trioxide


This is a reversible reaction, and the formation of the sulfur trioxide is exothermic.
2SO2(g) + O2(g) 2SO3 (g) H = -196 KJ mol-1

The process can be shown as below


Converting sulfur trioxide into sulfuric acid
Converting sulfur trioxide to sulfuric acid cannot be done just by adding water, as the reaction is
so uncontrollable that it creates a fog of sulfuric acid. Instead, the sulfur trioxide is first dissolved
in concentrated sulfuric acid:
H2SO4 (l) + SO3(g) H2S2O7 (l)
(oleum)
The product is known as fuming sulfuric acid or oleum. This can then be reacted safely with water
to produce concentrated sulfuric acid - twice as much as you originally used to make the fuming
sulfuric acid.
H2S2O7 (l) + H2O 2H2SO4 (l)
(Sulfuric acid)