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SULPHURIC

ACID

THE
CONTACT
PROCESS
Manufacture of Sulphuric
Acid

A brief summary of the


Contact Process
The Contact Process:
makes sulphur dioxide;
convers the sulphur dioxide into sulphur
trioxide (the reversible reaction at the
heart of the process);
converts the sulphur trioxide into
concentrated sulphuric acid.

Preparation of Sulphur
Making the sulphur dioxide
This

can either be made by burning sulphur


in an excess of air:
S(s)+O2(g)
SO2(g)
Or by heating sulphide ores like pyrite in an
excess of air: 4FeS2(s)+11O2(g)
2Fe2O3(s)+8SO2(g)
An excess of air is used so that the sulphur
dioxide produced is already mixed with
oxygen.

Purification
Purification

of air and SO2 (using an


electrostatic precipitator) is necessary to
avoid catalyst poisoning (i.e. removing
catalytic activities). The gas is then washed
with water and dried by sulphuric acid.
To conserve energy, the mixture is heated
by exhaust gases from the catalytic
converter by heat exchangers.
Sulphur dioxide and oxygen then react in
the manner as follows, to produce sulphur
trioxide:
2 SO2(g) + O2(g) 2 SO3(g) : H = 197 kJ
mol1

Converting the sulphur trioxide into sulphuric


acid
This

can't be done by simply adding water to


the sulphur trioxide - the reaction is
uncontrollable and creates a fog of sulphuric
acid. Instead, the sulphur trioxide is first
dissolved in concentrated sulphuric acid:
H2SO4(l)+SO3(g)
H2S2O7(l)

The

product is known as fuming sulphuric acid


or oleum.

Converting the sulphur trioxide into sulphuric


acid (Contd)

This can then be reacted safely with


water to produce twice as much
concentrated sulphuric acid as originally
used to make the fuming sulphuric acid.
H2S2O7(l) + H2O(l) 2 H2SO4(l)

The average percentage yield of this


reaction is around 30%.

Equilibrium considerations
relating to Temperature
The

position of the equilibrium is shifted


as far as possible to the right in order to
produce the maximum possible amount
of sulphur trioxide in the equilibrium
mixture.
The forward reaction (the production of
sulphur trioxide) is exothermic.
2 SO2(g) + O2(g) 2 SO3(g) : H =
197 kJ mol1

Equilibrium considerations
relating to Temperature

According

to Le Chatelier's Principle, this


will be favoured if you lower the
temperature. The system will respond
by moving the position of equilibrium to
counteract this - in other words by
producing more heat.
In order to get as much sulphur trioxide
as possible in the equilibrium mixture,
you need as low a temperature as
possible, but lower temperature means
slower reaction.

Equilibrium considerations
relating to Temperature
Therefore

400 - 450C is a compromise


temperature producing a fairly high
proportion of sulphur trioxide in the
equilibrium mixture, but in a very short
time.

Equilibrium considerations
relating to Pressure
2

SO2(g) + O2(g) 2 SO3(g) : H = 197 kJ


mol1
There are 3 molecules on the left-hand side of
the equation, but only 2 on the right.
According to Le Chatelier's Principle, if you
increase the pressure the system will respond
by favouring the reaction which produces
fewer molecules.

Equilibrium considerations
relating to Pressure
That

will cause the pressure to fall again.


In order to get as much sulphur trioxide as
possible in the equilibrium mixture, you
need as high a pressure as possible. High
pressures also increase the rate of the
reaction, however, the reaction is done at
pressures close to atmospheric pressure.

Equilibrium considerations
relating to Pressure
As

a compromise a gas pressure


between 100 and 200 kPa is used and
increases the collision frequency
between the reacting gases. They
increase the yield by driving the
reaction to the right (1.5 moles to 1
mole of gas). These pressures are also
sufficiently low to avoid expensive
apparatus and reduce energy usage.

Equilibrium considerations
relating to the Catalyst
The

catalyst has no effect whatsoever on the


position of the equilibrium. Adding a catalyst
doesn't produce any greater percentage of
sulphur trioxide in the equilibrium mixture.

In

the absence of a catalyst the reaction is so


slow that virtually no reaction happens in any
sensible time.

Equilibrium considerations
relating to the Catalyst
A

catalyst is used to increase the rate of


reaction, compensating for the lower
temperature. V2O5 supported on a silica
bed is used as the catalyst.

The

catalyst ensures that the reaction is


fast enough for a dynamic equilibrium to
be set up within the very short time that
the gases are actually in the reactor.

Flow diagram

INDUSTRIAL
IMPORTANCE OF
COMPOUNDS
OF SULPHUR

Importance of compounds of sulphur in industry

SO2

is used as a food preservative in juices


and jams. It creates an acidic and oxidising
medium which prevents the growth of any
microbes.

Sulphuric

acid is used in the manufacture of


fertilisers, manufacture of detergents,
production of phosphoric acid, used to help
manufacture fabrics e.g. nylon, in petroleum
refining, to manufacture dyes and as the
battery acid in car batteries.

Importance of compounds of sulphur in industry

Vulcanisation

of rubber
Improves elasticity and textile strengths
Compound in fumigants and fungicides
Used in metallurgy
Helps to treat air i.e. removing exhaust
fumes etc.

IMPACTS OF THE
SULPHURIC
ACID INDUSTRY

Impact on the
environment
Emissions

of SO2 causes drastic changes in


the atmosphere. It plays a major role in the
formation of acid rain via the reaction:
SO2 + H2O
H2SO3 or even 2SO2 + O2 +
2H2O 2H2SO4
Acid rain damages or destroys buildings
and vegetation and also is not healthy for
the aquatic life as it reduces the pH of the
water decreasing their quality of life. It also
can cause the mobilisation of toxic ions in
the soil which results in vegetations growth
being affected.

Impact on the
environment
Sulphur

oxides combine with other


substances in the air to produce a haze
that reduces visibility.

SO2

emissions can cause respiratory


problems as it is irritating and causes
wheezing and shortness of breath. The
gas irritates the throat and lungs and, if
there are fine dust particles in the air, can
damage a person's respiratory system.

Impact on the
environment

Sulphuric acid is a highly corrosive


compound that mixes with water, and it
causes problems for the environment as it
kills plant life. In waterways it readily
mixes with the water. Ingestion of this
water by wildlife results in illness and
sometimes death. The acid typically gets
into water because of improper disposal,
but it also can be airborne from factories.
This airborne sulphuric acid can be inhaled
by animals and humans.

Impact on the
environment
Sulphuric

acid is soluble in both water and


ethyl alcohol and it can cause fires with
other combustible materials.
The industry moderates sulphur dioxide
emissions by using the large amounts of
SO2 produced from these processes for the
manufacture of sulphuric acid in the
contact process while any emissions of
sulphur dioxide from the contact process
itself is minimal.

Impact on the
environment
Sulphuric

acid production is a net


producer of energy. Heat evolved in the
process is used to turn water into steam
which is used to generate electricity.

QUESTIONS