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Physical and Chemical Properties

Sulfur is an odorless, tasteless, light yellow solid. It is a reactive element that


given favorable circumstances combines with all other elements except gases,
gold, and platinum. Sulfur appears in a number of different allotropic
modifications: rhombic, monoclinic, polymeric, and others. The rhombic structure
is the most commonly found sulfur form. Each allotropic form differs in solubility,
specific gravity, crystalline, crystalline arrangement, and other physical constants.
These various allotropes also can exist together in equilibrium in definite
proportions, depending on temperature and pressure.

Rhombic And Monoclinic Sulfur

Both the rhombic and monoclinic crystalline modifications of sulfur are made up
of eight sulfur atoms arranged in a puckered-ring structure. At one atmosphere
pressure and temperatures less than 95.4ºC, rhombic is the stable crystalline
form. Above 95.4ºC to the melt temperature of 118.9ºC, the monoclinic crystalline
structure is dominant.

Rhombic and monoclinic sulfur are soluble to a limited extent in most organic
solvents. A high degree of solubility is attained in carbon disulfide which is often
used to dissolve rhombic sulfur for analysis.

Sulfur is not readily wetted or dissolved by water. Similarly, rhombic and


monoclinic sulfur have limited solubility in natural rubber and synthetic
elastomers at room temperatures. In most cases, the use level of sulfur in
different elastomers exceeds the solubility level of sulfur in that elastomer.

Polymeric Sulfur

At 160ºC and higher, the eight-member-ring sulfur molecule is energized and


ruptures. The open-chain sulfur molecule that takes shape combines to make
long unbranched polymer chains by a free radical mechanism. At high
temperatures, crystalline patterns are established by the polymer as the long
chains frequently orient into a coiled helix similar in bond angle to the eight-
member ring.

The polymeric allotrope of sulfur is insoluble in organic media, natural and


synthetic rubber as well as in carbon disulfide. Because of this insolubility,
polymeric sulfur is referred to as insoluble sulfur.

Chemical Name: Sulfur


Family Name: Element - Sulfur
Chemical Formula: S8
Physical State: Solid
CAS Number: 7704-34-9
Appearance: Yellow colored lumps, crystals, powder, or formed shape
Odor: Odorless, or faint odor of rotten eggs if not 100% pure
Purity: 90% - 100%
Formula: S8 (Rhombic or monoclinic)
Molecular Weight (G): 256.50
Vapor Density (Air = 1 ): 1.1
Vapor Pressure: 0mmHG at 280OF
Solubility In Water: Insoluble
Specific Gravity: 2.07 @ 70oF
Boiling Point: 832oF (444oC)
Freezing/Melting Point: 230-246oF (110-119oC)
Bulk Density: Lumps 75-115 lbs./ft3 Powder 33-80 lbs./ft3
Flashpoint: 405OF (207.2oC)
Flammable Limits: LEL: 3.3 UEL: 46.0
Auto-ignition Temperature: 478-511oF (248-266oC)

WebElements - Sulphur (S) lists all chemical and


physical properties of sulfur, along with CAS registry
number, atomic number, atomic weight, description,
background data, crystallography, isotopes,
electronic data, spectroscopy, biological, and
geological data

Overview
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.

SYMBOL
S

ATOMIC NUMBER
16

ATOMIC MASS
32.064

FAMILY
Group 16 (VIA)
Chalcogen

PRONUNCIATION
SUL-fur

Sulfur, also spelled as sulphur, is a very important element in today's world. Its most
important use is in the manufacture of sulfuric acid (H2SO4). There is more sulfuric acid
made than any other chemical in the world. It has an enormous number of important uses.

Physical properties
Sulfur exists in two allotropic forms. Allotropes are forms of an element with different
physical and chemical properties. The two forms of sulfur are known as α-form and β-
form (the Greek letters alpha and beta, respectively). Both allotropes are yellow, with the
α-form a brighter yellow and the β-form a paler, whitish-yellow. The α-form changes to
the β-form at about 94.5°C (202°F). The α-form can be melted at 112.8°C (235.0°F) if it
is heated quickly. The β-form has a melting point of 119°C (246°F). The boiling point of
the α-form is 444.6°C (832.3°F).
The two allotropes have densities of 2.06 grams per cubic centimeter (α-form) and 1.96
grams per cubic centimeter (β-form). Neither allotrope will dissolve in water. Both are
soluble

Solid sulfur.
in other Liquids, such as benzene (C6H6), carbon tetrachloride (CCl4), and carbon
disulfide (CS2).

Another allotrope of sulfur is formed when the element is melted. This allotrope has no
crystalline shape. It looks like a dark brown, thick, melted plastic.

Chemical properties
Sulfur's most prominent chemical property is that it burns. When it does so, it gives off a
pale blue flame and sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas. Sulfur dioxide has a very obvious strong,
choking odor.

Sulfur sometimes occurs in bright yellow layers on the top of the earth. It has a sharp,
offensive odor.

Sulfur also combines with most other elements. Sometimes it combines with them easily
at room temperature. In other cases, it must be heated. The reaction between magnesium
and sulfur is typical. When the two elements are heated, they combine to form
magnesium sulfide (MgS):
A chemical reaction involving sulfur.

Sulfur also combines with hydrogen gas:

The compound formed in this reaction is hydrogen sulfide (H2S). Hydrogen sulfide has
one of the best known odors of all compounds. It smells like rotten eggs. Hydrogen
sulfide is added to natural gas (methane) used in homes for cooking and heating. Methane
is odorless. So the unique smell of hydrogen sulfide makes it easy to know when there is
a methane leak.

Occurrence in nature
At one time, sulfur occurred in layers along the Earth's surface. They were easy for
humans to find and take. Deposits like these are more difficult to find today. One place
they still occur is in the vicinity of volcanoes. Sulfur is released from volcanoes as a gas.
When it reaches the cold air, it changes back to a solid. It forms beautiful yellow deposits
along the edge of a volcano.

Large supplies of sulfur still occur underground. They are removed by the Frasch process
(see accompanying sidebar).
Sulfur also occurs in a number of important minerals. Some examples are barite, or
barium sulfate (BaSO4); celestite, or strontium sulfate (SrSO4); cinnabar, or mercury
sulfide (HgS); galena, or lead sulfide (PbS); pyrites, or iron sulfide (FeS2); sphalerite, or
zinc sulfide (ZnS); and stibnite, or antimony sulfide (Sb2S3).

The abundance of sulfur in the Earth's crust is thought to be about 0.05 percent. It ranks
about number 16 among the elements in terms of their abundance in the earth. It is more
abundant than carbon, but less abundant than barium or strontium.

The largest producers of sulfur in the world are the United States, Canada, China, Russia,
Mexico, and Japan. In 1996, the United States produced about 11,800,000 metric tons of
sulfur. It is mined in 30 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Isotopes
There are four naturally occurring isotopes of sulfur: sulfur-32, sulfur-33, sulfur-34, and
sulfur-36. Isotopes are two or more forms of an element. Isotopes differ from each other
according to their mass number. The number written to the right of the element's name is
the mass number. The mass number represents the number of protons plus neutrons in the
nucleus of an atom of the element. The number of protons determines the element, but the
number of neutrons in the atom of any one element can vary. Each variation is an isotope.

Sulfur occurs in the vicinity of volcanoes.

Six radioactive isotopes of sulfur are known also. A radioactive isotope is one that breaks
apart and gives off some form of radiation. Radioactive isotopes are produced when very
small particles are fired at atoms. These particles stick in the atoms and make them
radioactive.

One radioactive isotope of sulfur, sulfur-35, is used commercially. In medicine, the


isotope is used to study the way fluids occur inside the body. It also has applications in
research as a tracer. A tracer is a radioactive isotope whose presence in a system can
easily be detected. The isotope is injected into the system at some point. Inside the
system, the isotope gives off radiation. That radiation can be followed by means of
detectors placed around the system.

As an example, a company that makes rubber tires might want to know what happens to
the sulfur added to tires. Sulfur-35 is added to rubber along with non-radioactive sulfur.
Researchers follow the radioactive isotope in the tires to see what happens to the sulfur
when the tires are used.

Uses
Sulfur has relatively few uses as an element. One of the most important of those uses is in
vulcanization. Vulcanization is the process of adding sulfur to rubber to make it stiff and
hard. It keeps the rubber from melting as it gets warmer. The discovery of vulcanization
by Charles Goodyear (1800-60) in 1839 is one of the greatest industrial accomplishments
of modern times.

Some powdered sulfur is also used as an insecticide. It can be spread on plants to kill or
drive away insects that feed on the plants. By far the majority of sulfur is used, however,
to make sulfur compounds. The most important of these is sulfuric acid (H2SO4).

Compounds
Nearly 90 percent of all sulfur produced goes into sulfuric acid. Sulfuric acid is the
number one chemical in the world in terms of the amount produced. Each year, almost
twice as much sulfuric acid is made as the next highest chemical, nitrogen. In 1996,
more than 45 million tons of sulfuric acid were produced in the United States alone.

The greatest portion, nearly 75 percent, of sulfuric acid is used to make fertilizers. The
next most important use, 10 percent, is in the petroleum industry. Other important uses of
sulfuric acid are in the treatment of copper ores; the production of paper and paper
products; the manufacture of other agricultural chemicals; and the production of plastics,
synthetic rubber, and other synthetic materials.

Vulcanization is the process of adding sulfur to rubber to make it stiff and hard.

Sulfuric acid is also used in smaller amounts to make explosives, water treatment
chemicals, storage batteries, pesticides,
Reaction of sulfuric acid and sugar.
drugs, synthetic fibers, and many other chemicals used in everyday life.

Health effects
The cleansing power of sulfur has been known for many centuries. At one time, ancient
physicians burned sulfur in a house to cleanse it of impurities. Creams made with sulfur
were used to treat infections and diseases. In fact, sulfur is still used to treat certain
medical problems. Sulfur is prepared in one of three forms. Precipitated sulfur (milk of
sulfur) is made by boiling sulfur with lime. Sublimed sulfur (flowers of sulfur) is pure
sulfur powder. And washed sulfur is sulfur treated with ammonia water. Washed sulfur is
used to kill parasites (organisms that live on other organisms) such as fleas and ticks. It is
also used as a laxative, a substance that helps loosen the bowels.

Sulfur is a macronutrient for both plants and animals. A macronutrient is an element


needed in relatively large amounts to insure the good health of an organism. Sulfur is
used to make proteins and nucleic acids, such as DNA. It also occurs in many essential
enzymes. Enzymes are chemicals that make chemical reactions occur more quickly in
cells. Humans usually have no problem getting enough sulfur in their diets. Eggs and
meats are especially rich in sulfur.
A person who does not get enough sulfur in his or her diet develops certain health
problems. These include itchy and flaking skin and improper development of hair and
nails. Under very unusual conditions, a lack of sulfur can lead to death. Such conditions
would be very rare, however.

The cleansing power of sulfur has been known for many centuries.

Plants require sulfur for normal growth and development. When plants do not get enough
sulfur from the soil, their young leaves start to turn yellow. Eventually, this yellowing
extends to the whole plant. The plant may develop other diseases as a result.