sulfur

Natural Occurrence and Processing

Sulfur is widely distributed in nature. It is found in many minerals and ores, e.g., iron pyrites, galena, cinnabar, zinc blende, gypsum, barite, and epsom salts and in mineral springs and other waters. It is found uncombined in some volcanic regions and in large underground deposits in Sicily and in Texas and Louisiana. Sulfur often occurs with coal, petroleum, and natural gas. Sulfur is found in meteorities, and deposits of it may be present near the lunar crater Aristarchus. The distinctive colors of Jupiter's moon Io are believed to result from forms of molten, solid, and gaseous sulfur. Sulfur is a component of all living cells. The amino acids cysteine, methionine, homocysteine, and taurine contain sulfur as do some common enzymes; it is a component of most proteins. Some forms of bacteria use hydrogen sulfide (H2S) in place of water in a rudimentary photosynthesislike process. Sulfur is absorbed by plants from soil as sulfate ions.

Sulfur is produced chiefly by the Frasch process, although it is also produced by the Sicilian method and by other methods. In the Sicilian method the sulfur-bearing ores are piled in a mound and ignited. The heat produced by the burning melts some of the sulfur, which is collected and cast. This sulfur is impure and is usually purified by sublimation. Sulfur is also recovered from natural gas, coal, crude oil, and other sources, e.g., the flue dusts and gases from the refining of metal sulfide ores. Elemental sulfur is obtained in several forms, including flowers of sulfur, a fine crystalline powder, and roll sulfur (cast cakes or sticks).

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