Man's physical universe

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OXYGEN AND SULFUR, CARBON AND SILICON 627

The acid properties of sulfuric acid find wide application in cleaning

scale from iron and steel. This process is called "pickling." Everyone

is

familiar with the use of sulfuric acid in lead storage batteries.

Old-fashioned gunpowder was a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and

saltpeter.

Sulfur, dissolved in lime and water to form lime-sulfur spray

or in the powdered form, is

in agriculture.

used to check scale and fungus enemies

Sulfur is used in the manufacture of fireworks, matches,

paints, rubber, plastics, and hundreds of other materials.

The Utilization of Waste Sulfur Dioxide Constitutes an Important

Conservation Problem.

About one fifth of the sulfuric acid is manufactured from the waste

gases of smelters in which metallic sulfides are roasted, i.e.,

heated in

the presence of air to change them into oxides. Pyrite, FeS2, may be

burned to produce sulfur dioxide, and it is used for the manufacture of

sulfuric acid where it can be obtained more cheaply than sulfur. Over

one half of the production of sulfuric acid in the United States could be

taken care of by the gases which are still wasted in the western smelters.

This loss is a crime from the point of view of conservation, but our

present economic system is so organized that it is not financially

advantageous to conserve these gases. Here is another challenge to

the ability of a democracy to conserve its resources. Is this a job for

the government or can it be handled by private initiative and

research ?

Coal is produced from plant materials, the protein of which contains

sulfur. Some coals contain as high as 5 per cent sulfur. Large cities

which use coal as a fuel are deluged by large quantities of sulfur dioxide,

which acts on stone, metals, wood, and textiles. Wearing apparel

quickly wears out in these regions because of their daily acid bath

produced by the reaction of sulfur dioxide with moisture. How can

these sulfurous fumes be kept out of the air of our large cities? This

is now an economic problem that remains to be solved.

Carbon, in Its Several Forms, Is Another Important Industrial Raw

Material.

The utilization of coal, petroleum, and natural gas as sources of

important organic compounds is discussed in Sections 8 and 9 of this

Unit. The discussion of carbon in this Unit will be restricted to elemental

carbon and its inorganic compounds.

Carbon occurs in nature in the two crystalline allotropic forms,

graphite and diamond, and as amorphous carbon.

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