Where Found (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Elemental sulfur is of either sedimentary or volcanic origin. Sedimentary deposits are found in the great geologic “basins” of the Earth: the Gulf of Mexico, the Mediterranean, and basins in eastern and central Europe and eastern Asia. Volcanic sulfur is recovered in the East Asian basin (the Philippines, Japan, the Kurils, and the Kamchatka peninsula) and the Cordilleran basin, along the west coast of South America and lower North America. Chemically combined sulfur is found in mineral ores from many parts of the world, notably in pyrite (FeS2) but also in sulfides of copper, zinc, lead, tin, and other commercially valuable metals. The sulfur dioxide produced in the metal smelting process was formerly vented to the atmosphere or precipitated and stored, but it is now reduced chemically to recover sulfur. Similarly, coal, petroleum, and natural gas are contaminated with reduced sulfur compounds that were formerly removed and destroyed but are now oxidized to elemental sulfur. Collectively, these secondary sources account for more than half of the sulfur production in the world. In 2008, world production was approximately 69 million metric tons; the United States accounted for approximately 9.2 million metric tons.
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Primary Uses (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
About 90 percent of annual sulfur production in the United States is used in making sulfuric acid. Sulfuric acid is a process chemical that does not appear as such in finished products. Approximately half the sulfur produced, for example, goes into phosphate fertilizers, which use sulfuric acid for its acid, not its sulfur content. Other uses are in sulfite and sulfate paper production, rubber, detergents, pharmaceuticals, and (as carbon disulfide) in manufacturing viscose rayon.
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Technical Definition (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Sulfur (chemical symbol S) is element 16 in the periodic table of the elements. It is a member of Group 16 (formerly VIA), which gives it an inorganic chemistry with negative oxidation state 2- (S2-, sulfide) and positive values (mostly 4+ and 6+) associated with oxides and oxyanions; its organic chemistry is highly varied. Sulfur has four naturally occurring isotopes and an average atomic mass of 32.064; six radioactive isotopes are also known. The pure element has two important crystal forms: rhombic (yellow, density 2.07 grams per milliliter, melting point 112.8° Celsius, boiling point 444.7° Celsius) and monoclinic (pale yellow, density 1.96 grams per milliliter, melting point 119.0° Celsius, boiling point 444.7° Celsius). To these should be added the amorphous form (pale yellow, density 1.92 grams per milliliter, melting point c. 120° Celsius, boiling point 444.7° Celsius). All these forms are insoluble in water but freely soluble in carbon disulfide. Sulfur exists as a variety of molecular allotropes, including short and long chains, eight-membered rings, and smaller molecules containing an even number of sulfur atoms.
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Description, Distribution, and Forms (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Sulfur is the fifteenth most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, constituting some 0.052 percent of its mass. It appears, almost literally, everywhere: in geological formations as the calcium salts gypsum and anhydrite (and a number of other sulfate salts) and in the elemental form associated with volcanoes; in ore deposits as pyrite and the other sulfides mentioned above; in seawater as sulfate ion; and in the atmosphere as sulfur dioxide and microparticulate sulfuric acid. Sulfur is part of the structure of many vital biological compounds and is essential in maintaining the shape of protein molecules. It appears in organic compounds such as mustard gas, thiamine (vitamin B1), saccharin, and the family of penicillin drugs, and it is found in the odoriferous compounds produced by onions, garlic, asparagus metabolites, and skunks.
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History (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Sulfur has been known since prehistoric times, as suggested by its name. That is, it is not a modern element name ending in -ium but a name that varies from language to language like those of other ancient elements such as iron, gold, or mercury. Sulfur is the “brimstone” of the Jacobean Bible, “brim” arising from an Old English root meaning “burn”; thus, “the stone that burns.” The burning was a mystery, sometimes sacred, to the ancients; the sulfur dioxide fumes given off were used for both ritual and medicinal purposes. As early as 2000 b.c.e. the Egyptians used these fumes for fabric bleaching, an application still found today. Sulfur itself was used as a disinfectant and a remedy for skin diseases.
In the sixth century, the Chinese found that powdered sulfur, charcoal, and niter, mixed in suitable proportions, made black gunpowder. When this invention was brought to Europe in the thirteenth century it altered relations between states, sometimes disastrously, and made for some curious political imbalances. The small island of Sicily became a power because of its reserves of volcanic sulfur, which it began to refine in the 1400’s. The method of recovery was to mound up the sulfur-containing earth and set fire to it; some sulfur provided heat by burning, melting the rest, which flowed out and solidified. Recovery was rarely better than 50 to 60 percent, but this was the only major source available. When...
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Obtaining Sulfur (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
In 1894, the primary method of mining sulfur was devised by the petroleum chemist/engineer Herman Frasch, who pumped superheated water into the sulfur deposit to melt it, then blew the molten product to the surface with compressed air. Major Frasch-process sulfur production stopped in 2002. Beginning in the twentieth century, by-product sulfur recovery became the larger source.
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Uses of Sulfur (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
As discussed above, the greater part of sulfur production is devoted to the manufacture of sulfuric acid. About two-thirds of this sulfuric acid is used by the fertilizer industry to produce ammonium sulfate and calcium hydrogen phosphate. The presence of the original sulfur is obvious in the first of these but concealed in the second, in which sulfuric acid provides only the acidic hydrogen ion. Sulfuric acid is also used in other chemical manufacture: in the solution of minerals prior to their conversion to useful products (such as bauxite to aluminum; ilmenite to titanium dioxide pigment; and copper or uranium ores to the metals); the cleanup of petroleum feedstocks before distillation or conversion into organic chemicals; and the pickling of steel (removing acid-soluble scale) before plating or other manufacturing processes. Sulfuric acid can be converted to “oleum” by dissolving sulfur trioxide in concentrated sulfuric acid; oleum is used in further chemical synthesis.
Sulfur dioxide and its water solution, sulfurous acid, are used as bleaches for textile fibers, gelatin, beet sugar, and wicker. Sulfur dioxide can be used as a disinfectant in breweries and a preservative in wines and dried fruits. A major use is in the sulfite process of the paper industry, in which sulfite ions combine with lignins in wood to produce water-soluble lignosulfonates that can be washed away from the desired cellulose. Some sulfate salts...
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Further Reading (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
Chatterjee, Kaulir Kisor. “Sulphur and Its Minerals.” In Uses of Industrial Minerals, Rocks, and Freshwater. New York: Nova Science, 2009.
Greenwood, N. N., and A. Earnshaw. “Sulfur.” In Chemistry of the Elements. 2d ed. Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann, 1997.
Jez, Joseph, ed. Sulfur: A Missing Link Between Soils, Crops, and Nutrition. Madison, Wis.: American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America, 2008.
Kogel, Jessica Elzea, et al., eds. “Sulfur.” In Industrial Minerals and Rocks: Commodities, Markets, and Uses. 7th ed. Littleton, Colo.: Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, 2006.
Kutney, Gerald. Sulfur: History, Technology, Applications, and Industry. Toronto: ChemTec, 2007.
Massey, A. G. “Group 16: The Chalcogens—Oxygen, Sulfur, Selenium, Tellurium, and Polonium.” In Main Group Chemistry. 2d ed. New York: Wiley, 2000.
Maynard, Douglas G., ed. Sulfur in the Environment. New York: Marcel Dekker, 1998.
Stirling, Diane. The Sulfur Problem: Cleaning up Industrial Feedstocks. Cambridge, England: Royal Society of Chemistry, 2000.
Visgilio, Gerald R., and Diana M. Whitelaw, eds. “Sulfur Dioxide and the Market.” In Acid in the Environment: Lessons Learned and Future Prospects. New York: Springer, 2007.
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Sulfur (Chemical Elements)
Sulfur belongs to the chalcogen family. Other members of the family are oxygen, selenium, tellurium, and polonium. These elements make up Group 16 (VIA) of the periodic table. The periodic table is a chart that shows how chemical elements are related to each other.
The term chalcogen comes from two Greek words meaning "ore forming." An ore is a naturally occurring mineral used as a source for an element. Many ores are compounds of a metal and oxygen or a metal and sulfur. Compounds that contain two elements, one of which is sulfur, are called sulfides. For example, a beautiful gold-colored mineral is called pyrite, or "fool's gold," because it looks so much like real gold. Pyrite is iron sulfide (FeS2).
Sulfur was known to ancient peoples. Its physical and chemical properties are very distinctive. It often occurs as a brilliant yellow powder. When it burns, it produces a clear blue flame and a very strong odor.
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Sulfur (Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine)
Sulfur is a homeopathic remedy that is used to treat a variety of chronic or acute ailments. Elemental sulfur is present in all living tissues. Sulfur is often referred to as brimstone or flowers of sulfur.
Sulfur was used during biblical times as a remedy for skin disorders such as acne and scabies. Flowers of sulfur were burned to disinfect the rooms of persons with infectious disease. Sulfur was also taken with molasses as an internal cleanser, and was used to treat chronic bronchitis, constipation, and rheumatism. In the early 2000s the element is used in the manufacture of dyes, gunpowder, insecticides, fungicides, sulfuric acid, and rubber (as a hardening agent).
Sulfur is known as the king of homeopathic remedies because it has such a wide range of use. It works well with almost every other remedy and it acts on many different maladies and ailments. This polychrest has a deep, long-lasting effect on the body and is often used to bring out symptoms for further treatment. For this reason, sulfur is generally used to treat chronic ailments, although it is also used for acute conditions such as fevers and colds. Sulfur stimulates the body's natural healing powers, causing a general improvement of symptoms and sometimes causing new symptoms.
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