compounds of sulphur with hydrogen

Hydrosulphuric acid (H2S). This substance is a gas having the composition expressed by the formula H2S and is commonly called hydrogen sulphide. It is found in the vapors issuing from volcanoes, and in solution in the so-called sulphur waters of many springs. It is formed when organic matter containing sulphur undergoes decay, just as ammonia is formed under similar circumstances from nitrogenous matter.

Preparation.Hydrosulphuric acid is prepared in the laboratory by treating a sulphide with an acid. Iron sulphide (FeS) is usually employed:

FeS + 2HCl = FeCl2 + H2S.

A convenient apparatus is shown in Fig. 41. A few lumps of iron sulphide are placed in the bottle A, and dilute acid is added in small quantities at a time through the funnel tube B, the gas escaping through the tube C.

Explanation of the reaction. Iron sulphide is a salt of hydrosulphuric acid, and this reaction is therefore similar to the one which takes place when sulphuric acid acts upon a nitrate. In both cases a salt and an acid are brought together, and there is a tendency for the reaction to go on until a state of equilibrium is reached. This equilibrium is constantly disturbed by the escape of the gaseous acid set free, so that the reaction goes on until all of the original salt has been decomposed. The two reactions differ in that the first one is complete at ordinary temperatures, while in the case of sulphuric acid acting upon sodium nitrate, the reacting substances must be heated so as to secure a temperature at which nitric acid is a gas.

Physical properties.Hydrosulphuric acid is a colorless gas, having a weak, disagreeable taste and an exceedingly offensive odor. It is rather sparingly soluble in water at ordinary temperatures, about three volumes dissolving in one of water. In boiling water it is not soluble at all. In pure form it acts as a violent poison, and even when diluted largely with air produces headache, dizziness, and nausea. It is a little heavier than air, having a density of 1.18.

Chemical properties. The most important chemical properties of hydrosulphuric acid are the following:

  1. Acid properties.Hydrosulphuric acid is a weak acid. In solution in water it turns blue litmus red and neutralizes bases, forming salts called sulphides.
  2. Action on oxygen. The elements composing hydrosulphuric acid have each a strong affinity for oxygen, and are not held together very firmly. Consequently the gas burns readily in oxygen or the air, according to the equation

H2S + 3O = H2O + SO2.

When there is not enough oxygen for both the sulphur and the hydrogen, the latter element combines with the oxygen and the sulphur is set free:

H2S + O = H2O + S.

  1. Reducing action. Owing to the ease with which hydrosulphuric acid decomposes and the strong affinity of both sulphur and hydrogen for oxygen, the substance is a strong reducing agent, taking oxygen away from many substances which contain it.
  2. Action on metals.Hydrosulphuric acid acts towards metals in a way very similar to water. Thus, when it is passed over heated iron in a tube, the reaction is represented by the equation

3Fe + 4H2S = Fe3S4 + 8H.

Water in the form of steam, under similar circumstances, acts according to the equation

3Fe + 4H2O = Fe3O4 + 8H.

Salts of hydrosulphuric acid,—sulphides. The salts of hydrosulphuric acid, called sulphides, form an important class of salts. Many of them are found abundantly in nature, and some of them are important ores. They will be frequently mentioned in connection with the metals.

Most of the sulphides are insoluble in water, and some of them are insoluble in acids. Consequently, when hydrosulphuric acid is passed into a solution of a salt, it often happens that a sulphide is precipitated. With copper chloride the equation is

CuCl2 + H2S = CuS + 2HCl.

Because of the fact that some metals are precipitated in this way as sulphides while others are not, hydrosulphuric acid is extensively used in the separation of the metals in the laboratory.

Explanation of the reaction. When hydrosulphuric acid and copper chloride are brought together in solution, both copper and sulphur ions are present, and these will come to an equilibrium, as represented in the equation

Cu+ + S<–>CuS.

Since copper sulphide is almost insoluble in water, as soon as a very small quantity has formed the solution becomes supersaturated, and the excess keeps precipitating until nearly all the copper or sulphur ions have been removed from the solution. With some other ions, such as iron, the sulphide formed does not saturate the solution, and no precipitate results.


Sulphur forms two well-known compounds with oxygen: sulphur dioxide (SO2), sometimes called sulphurous anhydride; and sulphur trioxide (SO3), frequently called sulphuric anhydride.

Sulphur dioxide (SO2). Sulphur dioxide occurs in nature in the gases issuing from volcanoes, and in solution in the water of many springs. It is likely to be found wherever sulphur compounds are undergoing oxidation.

Preparation. Three general ways may be mentioned for the preparation of sulphur dioxide:

  1. By the combustion of sulphur. Sulphur dioxide is readily formed by the combustion of sulphur in oxygen or the air:

S + 2O = SO2.

It is also formed when substances containing sulphur are burned:

ZnS + 3O = ZnO + SO2.

  1. By the reduction of sulphuric acid. When concentrated sulphuric acid is heated with certain metals, such as copper, part of the acid is changed into copper sulphate, and part is reduced to sulphurous acid. The latter then decomposes into sulphur dioxide and water, the complete equation being

Cu + 2H2SO4 = CuSO4 + SO2 + 2H2O.

  1. By the action of an acid on a sulphite.Sulphites are salts of sulphurous acid (H2SO3). When a sulphite is treated with an acid, sulphurous acid is set free, and being very unstable, decomposes into water and sulphur dioxide. These reactions are expressed in the equations

Na2SO3 + 2HCl = 2NaCl + H2SO3,

H2SO3 = H2O + SO2.

Explanation of the reaction. In this case we have two reversible reactions depending on each other. In the first reaction,

(1) Na2SO3 + 2HCl <–> 2NaCl + H2SO3,

we should expect an equilibrium to result, for none of the four substances in the equation are insoluble or volatile when water is present to hold them in solution. But the quantity of the H2SO3 is constantly diminishing, owing to the fact that it decomposes, as represented in the equation

(2) H2SO3<–> H2O + SO2,

and the sulphur dioxide, being a gas, escapes. No equilibrium can therefore result, since the quantity of the sulphurous acid is constantly being diminished because of the escape of sulphur dioxide.

Physical properties. Sulphur dioxide is a colorless gas, which at ordinary temperatures is 2.2 times as heavy as air. It has a peculiar, irritating odor. The gas is very soluble in water, one volume of water dissolving eighty of the gas under standard conditions. It is easily condensed to a colorless liquid, and can be purchased in this condition stored in strong bottle..

Chemical properties. Sulphur dioxide has a marked tendency to combine with other substances, and is therefore  active substance chemically. It combines with oxygen gas, but not very easily. It can, however, take oxygen away from some other substances, and is therefore a good reducing agent. Its most marked chemical property is its ability to combine with water to form sulphurous acid (H2SO3).

Sulphurous acid (H2SO3). When sulphur dioxide dissolves in water it combines chemically with it to form sulphurous acid, an unstable substance having the formula H3SO3. It is impossible to prepare this acid in pure form, as it breaks down very easily into water and sulphur dioxide. The reaction is therefore reversible, and is expressed by the equation

H2O + SO2<–> H2SO3.

Solutions of the acid in water have a number of interesting properties.

  1. Acid properties. The solution has all the properties typical of an acid. When neutralized by bases, sulphurous acid yields a series of salts called sulphites.
  2. Reducing properties. Solutions of sulphurous acid act as good reducing agents. This is due to the fact that sulphurous acid has the power of taking up oxygen from the air, or from substances rich in oxygen, and is changed by this reaction into sulphuric acid:

H2SO3 + O = H2SO4,

H2SO3 + H2O2 = H2S04 + H2O.

  1. Bleaching properties.Sulphurous acid has strong bleaching properties, acting upon many colored substances in such a way as to destroy their color. It is on this account used to bleach paper, straw goods, and even such foods as canned corn.
  2. Antiseptic properties.Sulphurous acid has marked antiseptic properties, and on this account has the power[Pg 152] of arresting fermentation. It is therefore used as a preservative.

Salts of sulphurous acid,—sulphites. The sulphites, like sulphurous acid, have the power of taking up oxygen very readily, and are good reducing agents. On account of this tendency, commercial sulphites are often contaminated with sulphates. A great deal of sodium sulphite is used in the bleaching industry, and as a reagent for softening paper pulp.

Sulphur trioxide (SO3). When sulphur dioxide and oxygen are heated together at a rather high temperature, a small amount of sulphur trioxide (SO3) is formed, but the reaction is slow and incomplete. If, however, the heating takes place in the presence of very fine platinum dust, the reaction is rapid and nearly complete.

Experimental preparation of sulphur trioxide. The experiment can be performed by the use of the apparatus shown in Fig. 43, the fine platinum being secured by moistening asbestos fiber with a solution of platinum chloride and igniting it in a flame. The fiber, covered with fine platinum, is placed in a tube of hard glass, which is then heated with a burner to about 350°, while sulphur dioxide and air are passed into the tube. Union takes place at once, and the strongly fuming sulphur trioxide escapes from the jet at the end of the tube, and may be condensed by surrounding the receiving tube with a freezing mixture.

Properties of sulphur trioxide. Sulphur trioxide is a colorless liquid, which solidifies at about 15° and boils at 46°. A trace of moisture causes it to solidify into a mass of silky white crystals, somewhat resembling asbestos fiber in appearance. In contact with the air it fumes strongly, and when thrown upon water it dissolves with a hissing sound and the liberation of a great deal of heat. The product of this reaction is sulphuric acid, so that sulphur trioxide is the anhydride of that acid:

SO3 + H2O = H2SO4.

Catalysis. It has been found that many chemical reactions, such as the union of sulphur dioxide with oxygen, are much influenced by the presence of substances which do not themselves seem to take a part in the reaction, and are left apparently unchanged after it has ceased. These reactions go on very slowly under ordinary circumstances, but are greatly hastened by the presence of the foreign substance. Substances which hasten very slow reactions in this way are said to act as catalytic agents or catalyzers, and the action is called catalysis. Just how the action is brought about is not well understood.

DEFINITION: A catalyzer is a substance which changes the velocity of a reaction, but does not change its products.

Examples of Catalysis. We have already had several instances of such action. Oxygen and hydrogen combine with each other at ordinary temperatures in the presence of platinum powder, while if no catalytic agent is present they do not combine in appreciable quantities until a rather high temperature is reached. Potassium chlorate, when heated with manganese dioxide, gives up its oxygen at a much lower temperature than when heated alone. Hydrogen dioxide decomposes very rapidly when powdered manganese dioxide is sifted into its concentrated solution.[Pg 154]

On the other hand, the catalytic agent sometimes retards chemical action. For example, a solution of hydrogen dioxide decomposes more slowly when it contains a little phosphoric acid than when perfectly pure. For this reason commercial hydrogen dioxide always contains phosphoric acid.

Many reactions are brought about by the catalytic action of traces of water. For example, phosphorus will not burn in oxygen in the absence of all moisture. Hydrochloric acid will not unite with ammonia if the reagents are perfectly dry. It is probable that many of the chemical transformations in physiological processes, such as digestion, are assisted by certain substances acting as catalytic agents. The principle of catalysis is therefore very important.

Sulphuric acid (oil of vitriol) (H2SO4). Sulphuric acid is one of the most important of all manufactured chemicals. Not only is it one of the most common reagents in the laboratory, but enormous quantities of it are used in many of the industries, especially in the refining of petroleum, the manufacture of nitroglycerin, sodium carbonate, and fertilizers.

Manufacture of sulphuric acid.

  1. Contact process. The reactions taking place in this process are represented by the following equations:

SO2 + O = SO3,

SO3 + H2O = H2SO4.

To bring about the first of these reactions rapidly, a catalyzer is employed, and the process is carried out in the following way: Large iron tubes are packed with some porous material, such as calcium and magnesium sulphates, which contains a suitable catalytic substance scattered through it. The catalyzers most used are platinum powder,[Pg 155] vanadium oxide, and iron oxide. Purified sulphur dioxide and air are passed through the tubes, which are kept at a temperature of about 350°. Sulphur trioxide is formed, and as it issues from the tube it is absorbed in water or dilute sulphuric acid. The process is continued until all the water in the absorbing vessel has been changed into sulphuric acid, so that a very concentrated acid is made in this way. An excess of the trioxide may dissolve in the strong sulphuric acid, forming what is known as fuming sulphuric acid.

  1. Chamber process. The method of manufacture exclusively employed until recent years, and still in very extensive use, is much more complicated. The reactions are quite involved, but the conversion of water, sulphur dioxide, and oxygen into sulphuric acid is accomplished by the catalytic action of oxides of nitrogen. The reactions are brought about in large lead-lined chambers, into which oxides of nitrogen, sulphur dioxide, steam, and air are introduced in suitable proportions.

Reactions of the chamber process. In a very general way, the various reactions which take place in the lead chambers may be expressed in two equations. In the first reaction sulphur dioxide, nitrogen peroxide, steam, and oxygen unite, as shown in the equation

(1) 2SO2 + 2NO2 + H2O + O = 2SO2 (OH) (NO2).

The product formed in this reaction is called nitrosulphuric acid or “chamber crystals.” It actually separates on the walls of the chambers when the process is not working properly. Under normal conditions, it is decomposed as fast as it is formed by the action of excess of steam, as shown in the equation

(2) 2SO2 (OH) (NO2) + H2O + O = 2H2SO4 + 2NO2.

The nitrogen dioxide formed in this reaction can now enter into combination with a new quantity of sulphur dioxide, steam, and oxygen, and the series of reactions go on indefinitely. Many other reactions occur, but these two illustrate the principle of the process.

The relation between sulphuric acid and nitrosulphuric acid can be seen by comparing their structural formulas:

O= -OHO= -OH
O= -OHO= -NO2


1.Which of the following  is a colourless gas with a repulsive smell like that of a rotten egg?

a.H2S   b.HCl  c.SO2   d.Cl2

2.Which of the following gases serves as both reducing and bleaching agents?

a.H2S    b.SO2  c.SOd.HCl

3.The PH of the solution made by dissolving  hydrogen sulphide in water is

a.1   b.7   c.11   d.4

4.Which of the following acts both as a reducing and as an oxidizing agent.

a.CO2  b SO  c.H2S   d.O2

1.How would you prepare a jar of hydrogen sulphide . Give the equation of reaction

2.How are hydrogen tetraoxosulphate vi formed? Why are they known as acid salts?         

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