An Introduction to Chemical Science

Author: Rufus Phillips Williams

Chapter XIX. Sulphuric Acid.

90. Preparation.

Experiment 55.—Having fitted a cork with four or five perforations to a large t.t., pass a d.t. from three of these to three smaller t.t., leaving the others open to the air, as in Figure 28. Into one t.t. put 5 cc. H2O, into another 5 g. Cu turnings and 10 cc. H2SO4, into the third 5 g. Cu turnings and 10 cc. dilute HNO3, half water. Hang on a ring stand, and slowly heat the tubes containing H2O and H2SO4. Notice the fumes that pass into the large t.t.

Trace out and apply to Figure 28 these reactions:—

(1) Cu + 2 H2SO4 = CuSO4 + 2 H2O + SO2.

(2) 3 Cu + 8 HNO3 = 3 Cu(NO3)2+ 4 H2O + 2 NO.

(3) NO + O = NO2.

(4) SO2 + H2O + NO2 =H2SO4 + NO.

(4) comes from combining the gaseous products in (1), (2), (3). In (3), NO takes an atom of O from the air, becoming NO2, and at once gives it up, to the H2SO3 (H2O + SO2), making H2SO4, and again goes through the same operation of taking up O and passing it along. NO is thus called a carrier of O. It is a reducing agent, while NO2 is an oxidizing agent. This is a continuous process, and very important, since it changes useless H2SO3 into valuable H2SO4. If exposed to the air, H2SO3 would very slowly take up O and become H2SO4.

Instead of the last experiment, this may be employed if preferred: Burn a little S in a receiver. Put into an evaporating-dish, 5 cc. HNO3, and dip a paper or piece of cloth into it. Hang the paper in the receiver of SO2, letting no HNO3 drop from it. Continue this operation till a small quantity of liquid is found in the bottle. The fumes show that HNO3 has lost O. 2 HNO3 + SO2 = H2SO4 + 2 NO2.

91. Tests for H2SO4.

Experiment 56.—(1) Test the liquid with litmus. (2) Transfer it to a t.t., and add an equal volume of BaCl2 solution. H2SO4 + BaCl2 = ? Is BaSO4 soluble? (3) Put one drop H2SO4 from the reagent bottle in 10 cc. H2O in a clean t.t., and add 1 cc. BaCl2 solution. Look for any cloudiness. This is the characteristic test for H2SO4 and soluble sulphates, and so delicate that one drop in a liter of H2O can be detected. (4) Instead of H2SO4, try a little Na2SO4 solution. (5) Put two or three drops of strong H2SO4 on writing-paper, and evaporate, high over a flame, so as not to burn the paper. Examine it when dry. (6) Put a stick into a t.t. containing 2 cc. H2SO4, and note the effect. (7) Review Experiment 5. (8) Into an e.d. pour 5 cc. H2O, and then 15 cc. H2SO4. Stir it meantime with a small t.t. containing 2 or 3 cc. NH4OH, and notice what takes place in the latter; also note the heat of the e.d.

The effects of (5), (6), (7), and (8) are due to the intense affinity which H2SO4 has for H2O. So thirsty is it that it even abstracts H and O from oxalic acid in the right proportion to form H2O, combines them, and then absorbs the water.

92. Affinity for Water.—This acid is a desiccator or dryer, and is used to take moisture from the air and prevent metallic substances from rusting. In this way it dilutes itself, and may increase its weight threefold. In diluting, the acid must always be poured into the water slowly and with stirring, not water into the acid, since, as H2O is lighter than H2SO4, heat enough may be set free at the surface of contact to cause an explosion. Contraction also takes place, as may be shown by accurately measuring each liquid in a graduate, before mixing, and again when cold. The mixture occupies less volume than the sum of the two volumes. For the best results the volume of the acid should be about three times that of the water.

93. Sulphuric Acid made on a Large Scale involves the same principles as shown in Experiment 55, excepting that S02 is obtained by burning S or roasting FeS2 (pyrite),

[Fig. 29.]

and HNO3 is made on the spot from NaNO3 and H2SO4. SO2 enters a large leaden chamber, often 100 to 300 feet long, and jets of steam and small portions of HNO3 are also forced in. The "chamber acid" thus formed is very dilute, and must be evaporated first in leaden pans, and finally in glass or platinum retorts, since strong H2SO4, especially if hot, dissolves lead. See Experiment 124. Study Figure 29, and write the reactions. 2 HNO3 breaks up into 2 NO2, H2O, and O. 94. Importance.—Sulphuric acid has been called, next to human food, the most indispensable article known. There is hardly a product of modern civilization in the manufacture of which it is not directly or indirectly used. Nearly a million tons are made yearly in Great Britain alone. It is the basis of all acids, as Na2CO3 is of alkalies. It is the life of chemical industry, and the quantity of it consumed is an index of a people’s civilization. Only a few of its uses can be stated here. The two leading ones are the reduction of Ca3(PO4)2 for artificial manures and the sodium carbonate manufacture. Foods depend on the productiveness of soils and on fertilizers, and thus indirectly our daily bread is supplied by means of this acid; and from sodium carbonate glass, soap, saleratus, bakingpowders, and most alkalies are made directly or indirectly. H2SO4 is employed in bleaching, dyeing, printing, telegraphy, electroplating, galvanizing iron and wire, cleaning metals, refining Au and Ag, making alum, blacking, vitriols, glucose, mineral waters, ether, indigo, madder, nitroglycerine, guncotton, parchment, celluloid, etc., etc.


95. Nordhausen or Fuming Sulphuric Acid, H2S207 used in dissolving indigo and preparing coal-tar pigments, is made by distilling FeSO4. 4FeSO4 + H2O = H2S207 + 2Fe203 + 2S02. This was the original sulphuric acid. It is also formed when S03 is dissolved in H2SO4. When exposed to the air, S03 escapes with fuming.


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Chicago: Rufus Phillips Williams, "Chapter XIX. Sulphuric Acid.," An Introduction to Chemical Science, ed. Bryant Conant, James in An Introduction to Chemical Science Original Sources, accessed September 30, 2022,

MLA: Williams, Rufus Phillips. "Chapter XIX. Sulphuric Acid." An Introduction to Chemical Science, edited by Bryant Conant, James, in An Introduction to Chemical Science, Original Sources. 30 Sep. 2022.

Harvard: Williams, RP, 'Chapter XIX. Sulphuric Acid.' in An Introduction to Chemical Science, ed. . cited in , An Introduction to Chemical Science. Original Sources, retrieved 30 September 2022, from