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Old 06-28-2010, 12:40 AM
trickyspark trickyspark is offline
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Default Turning sulfuric acid back into water?



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I was watching a special on something the other day, and the made mention that during a volcanic eruption sulfur gets into the water and turns it into sulfuric acid as the ash falls.

They never mention how you can reverse the process and make the sulfuric acid back into water. I tried searching myself but I didn't find anything other than how to evaporate water using acid.

Any chemistists out there know?
Old 06-28-2010, 03:07 AM
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Xelera Xelera is offline
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Just trying to remember back to my college chemistry...

If you add a base to an acid, you form a salt, and water. For example, Hydrochloric acid (HCl) and Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH):

HCl + NaOH ---> NaCl + H2O

Salt can be removed from water fairly easy, by distillation, reverse osmosis or ionic filtration.

When mixing acids and bases, I'm pretty sure it generates ALOT of heat in the process...

My guess for Sulfuric Acid (H2SO4) would be:

H2SO4 + 2NaOH ---> Na2SO4 + (2)H2O

Because SO4 has a -2 charge as an ion, it will need twice the volume of NaOH (Na having a +1 charge as an ion) for each volume of H2SO4, to completely react.

Again, this is just me, at 36, trying to recall my college and Navy chemistry YEARS ago. Should get you pointed in the right direction though.
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Old 06-28-2010, 03:44 AM
desertprovender desertprovender is offline
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ditto to what xelera said.

What's actually happening is that the volcano is releasing hydrogen sulfide (H2S) which mixes with O2 molecules in the atmosphere to make sulfuric acid:

H2S + 2O2 = H2SO4

This reaction is in large part the source of acid rain (burning coal releases H2S as well) as the H2SO4 is carried in precipitation to the ground. By and large, it does its damage when it hits the ground, reacting with various substances to form sulfate salts, but if you need to use water you suspect is contaminated with sulfuric acid, you need to neutralize it.

I'd suggest against using lye (NaOH) or any other strong base, as it's possible to overdo it, and any liquid that's too alkaline is just as dangerous as one that's too acidic. Either way, in order to determine how much of the base you'd need to add, you'd have to determine the pH of the water, calculate the moles of sulfuric acid present, equalize that with your base, then convert moles to grams (if you're using a solid base) or mLs based on the concentration of the alkaline solution you have. Too much work, if you ask me.

Baking soda (mostly Sodium Bicarbonate [NaHCO3]) is an excellent alternative in this regard. It not only neutralizes the acid, but it indicates the amount of acid present, and the resulting salt (Sodium Sulfate [Na2SO4]) is minimally toxic. Just add the baking soda until the fizzing stops, at that point you know all of the acid has been neutralized and, at least as far as pH is concerned, the water is safe to drink. An alternative is limestone or another Calcium Carbonate (CaCO2) mineral, which should fizz as well, though it may take longer to react and may have any number of impurities in it. Not ideal, but useful in dire straits.

One last thing... if you have red cabbage, you can use it as a impromptu litmus test. Process some of the cabbage into juice, and add it to the water in question. If it changes color, you have a pH that isn't neutral. To make sure it's acidic, add some baking soda and check for fizzing. If it doesn't fizz it's basic, and you need to add an acid. In either case, check for neutrality with more cabbage.

As an aside, check the web for toxicity of various salts if you're planning to neutralize water. Something like Sodium Citrate (baking soda + citric acid) is no big deal, but if you're going to end up with something like Ammonium Nitrate (ammonia + nitric acid), probably best not to plan on drinking the stuff, though you've got a sweet fertilizer.

Best advice is to educate yourself about chemistry, could save (or, if used improperly, end) your life one day.
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Old 06-28-2010, 11:18 AM
trickyspark trickyspark is offline
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Thanks for the replies. I've been trying to educate myself some on chemistry, I have a lot of free time since I got laid off (HOORAY BUDGET CUTBACKS!!!)).

I have 2 books I've been reading, one is just called General Chemistry, such an original name . The other has some experiments and such, it uses the cabbage indicator thing you mentioned.
Old 06-29-2010, 10:55 PM
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The above answers seem sound. There are some other ways to do it too... depending on what you want the leftover water for. You could combine the acid with an abundance of something else the acid dissolves, like copper or lead, but if you're trying to make drinking water this is probably not the way to go. I think youd have to be in pretty rough shape when you're looking at conc H2S04 as a source of potable water.
Are you thinking about this because you're planning for something like a catastrophic volcano? I'm guessing you'd be better off devoting time and resources to finding fresh water. If you can find a source of H2SO4 of any concentration and purity, you're probably best off hanging on to it - it has some other pretty important uses that you might be able to exploit.
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Old 06-30-2010, 11:16 AM
trickyspark trickyspark is offline
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I wasn't exactly planning on a major volcanic thing or any one thing in particular. I just saw on TV that this can happen to water, and I reasoned there had to be a way to reverse the process.

I just kind of wanted to know from my own curiousity and partly for the fact it might happen some day. I never write anything off totally. All of the shows I see about the super volcanoes mention the poisoned water, none ever mention that you could undo the process with collected water.

Sometimes I just wonder about things, not so much worry as wonder. I'm weird like that. Perhaps I need a hobby to keep my mind from wandering to much.
Old 07-01-2010, 12:18 AM
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I an not a chemist but it would be easier to collect the sulfuric acid out of the water than water out of the sulfuric acid, and that might be useful to have.
Old 07-01-2010, 02:14 AM
desertprovender desertprovender is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by trickyspark View Post
Sometimes I just wonder about things, not so much worry as wonder. I'm weird like that. Perhaps I need a hobby to keep my mind from wandering to much.
If wondering for the sake of wondering is weird, I don't want to be normal. Any reason why chemistry can't be the hobby you're talking about?

By and large, Franklee is right, really the only time you'd run across water with significant concentrations of sulfuric acid is if you're in a major caldera (yellowstone, for example) in which case, relocation might be a good option. That said, using a metal to neutralize the acid would work as well, just be aware that it would likely create fumes of hydrogen, and the salts are still a concern. Copper (II) sulfate is an irritant that, in large enough doses can cause vomiting if you're lucky, and kill you if you aren't. Plumbous sulfate is a salt of lead and those are generally fairly nasty. In both cases, the only way to get the salt out of the water is to either evaporate and re-condense the water, or through electrolysis. Really, if you have either a solar still or electricity, the issue of water neutralization becomes a bit moot. If you must use a metal for neutralization, go with aluminum or iron, the salts are pretty inert. Iron (II) Sulfate is even used as a supplement to treat anemia.

Likewise, if you want to hold on to the sulfuric acid, you can condense it somewhat by evaporation, but there again you're losing the water. Not a bad resource, though.
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