What Are the Uses of Sulphuric Acid?

by Jessica Clifton

Sulphuric acid is the most widely produced chemical in the world, simply because it has so many uses. We’ll look at a few key uses of sulphuric acid, including its use as a fertiliser, cleaning product, and in batteries.

What Is Sulphuric Acid?

Sulphuric acid (H2SO4) is a strong mineral acid made up of sulphur, hydrogen, and oxygen. It has a strong smell and is an extremely corrosive, oily, clear liquid. It should always be handled with caution, even in diluted form. When diluted with water it releases heat in an exothermic reaction.

Uses of Sulphuric Acid

Sulphuric acid is used in some way during the production of almost all manufactured goods. It has a wide range of uses in the agriculture, chemical, automotive, and steel industries, and we’ll explore a few of these in a little more detail.

The Importance of Sulphuric Acid in Agriculture

Around half of the world’s sulphuric acid is used in agriculture, specifically in the fertiliser industry. Sulphuric acid is specifically used to manufacture phosphate fertilisers such as superphosphate of lime and ammonium sulphate.

All industrialised countries use sulphuric acid in this way. It is intrinsic to modern farming methods because when it is used to produce nitrogen fertilisers it increases the crop yield, essentially meaning that farmers can generate more revenue through producing more crops. It also produces highly nutritional crops. As developing countries become more industrialised, they in turn will have a greater need for sulphuric acid.

Sulphuric Acid Use in Batteries

Uses of sulphuric acid - in motor vehicle batteries
Sulphuric acid is used in engine batteries, such as in farming equipment

Large-power batteries work on the basis of the chemical reaction between sulphuric acid and lead. When these two materials interact the sulphuric acid serves as the electrolyte, and together they generate the required electrons for a battery to be able to produce voltage.

Batteries made in this way are typically found in motor vehicle engines, hospital imaging equipment, and farming equipment. Because of the nature of the chemical reaction, an inert compound is created. This means that a battery has a finite use and will eventually die.

Sulphuric Acid in Domestic Products

Sulphuric acid is often found in domestic cleaning products due to its corrosive nature. Being highly corrosive makes sulphuric acid ideal for cleaning surfaces which can get particularly dirty, such as toilets.

It’s also an ideal drain unblocker because it can break down organic material such as hair and grease. As we’ve already seen, sulphuric acid produces heat when it comes into contact with water and this helps to cut through blocked drains. Just be careful not to let it come into contact with your skin – sulphuric acid should always be handled with care.

Sulphuric acid is also found in other household products such as laundry detergent, soap, dishwasher liquid, and even some cosmetics.

Iron and Steel Making

Sulphuric acid is used in the processing of iron, copper and steel to clean the metal and prevent oxidation before it is plated with tin or zinc. This is known as ‘pickling’. Two examples of using sulphuric acid in this way are to make cans for food and to supply the correct metal for sale to the automotive industry.

Uses of sulphuric acid - in steel and iron manufacturing
Sulphuric acid is used to prevent oxidisation in the iron and steel industries

Used sulphuric acid can be recycled in a Spent Acid Regeneration (SAR) facility. Large-scale metal manufacturers often have their own SARs to save on the cost of buying new sulphuric acid and disposing of the old acid.

Other Uses of Sulphuric Acid

We have only scratched the surface of the uses of sulphuric acid – one article is not long enough to cover them all! These are just some of its other uses:

  • Chemical manufacturing – sulphuric acid is often used as a raw material in the production of other chemical solutions such as hydrochloric acid, phosphoric acid, nitric acid, and sulphate salts
  • Lab testing and analysis
  • Petrochemical refining – sulphuric acid is used as a catalyst to ‘clean’ impurities out of gasoline and other refinery products
  • Paper production
  • Textile manufacturing: sulphuric acid is used in the production of rayon, a semi-synthetic, breathable material ideal for use in hot and humid countries

At ReAgent, we supply sulphuric acid in concentrated and standard forms as well as in reagent solutions. We also offer a range of pack sizes, from 2.5L to 1000L and in batches up to 5000L. If you would like to discuss your requirements, just contact one of our friendly team today.


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