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Why is sulfuric acid so important?

Learn why sulfuric acid is important and where it's used.

Sulfuric acid can be safely stored in glass. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Sulfuric acid can be safely stored in glass.

Sometimes called oil of vitriol, sulfuric acid (H2SO4) has become one of the most important of all chemicals. It was used very little until it became essential for the manufacture of soda in the 18th century.

It is prepared industrially by the reaction of water with sulfur trioxide, which in turn is made by chemical combination of sulfur dioxide and oxygen by one of two processes (the contact process or the chamber process).

Many manufactured articles in common use depend in some way on sulfuric acid for their production. Its greatest use is in the production of fertilizers, but it is also used in the refining of petroleum, and production of automobile batteries, explosives, pigments, iron and other metals and paper pulp.

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