If you wish this molecule of the month was on sulphuric acid rather than sulfuric acid then please click on the danger sign (right). It used to be known as 'oil of vitriol'. In fact it might be even better to call it sulfur(VI) acid.
Sulfuric acid is produced in larger quantities than any other acid. Almost every manufactured item in the modern world comes into contact with H2SO4 at some stage in its history. It is so important, that at one time the annual production of Sulfuric acid was taken as a measure of the degree of industrialisation of a country, and earned it its nickname of the 'king of chemicals'.
Sulfuric acid (H2SO4) is still an extremely important chemical used in the manufacture of fertilisers and explosives. It is made nowadays from sulfur dioxide by the Contact Process. This process reacts together oxygen, O2 and sulfur dioxide, SO2 at 450°C and 2 atmospheres pressure, with the help of vanadium(V) oxide, to make sulfur trioxide, SO3 gas in a 98% yield. This is then dissolved in water to make H2SO4. [Note that directly dissolving SO3 in water is not practical due to the highly exothermic nature of the reaction, forming a corrosive mist instead of a liquid. Instead, SO3 can be absorbed into existing H2SO4 to produce oleum (H2S2O7), which may then be mixed with water to form Sulfuric acid]. The original reaction to make SO3 has a high activation energy and without the catalyst is therefore very slow. It only became economically viable when in 1746, John Roebuck developed the lead chamber process, which catalysed the reaction using oxides of nitrogen through the intermediate formation of HOSO2ONO. It could be argued that the discovery of this process catalysed the Industrial Revolution (as well as the reaction!) in the UK, and as a result even helped to forge the British Empire!