Sulfur occurs in its elementary form in large underground deposits from which it is obtained by traditional mining processes or, more commonly, by the Frasch process. In the Frasch process, superheated water is forced down a pipe that has been sunk into a sulfur deposit. The heated water melts the sulfur, which is then forced up a second pipe to the earth's surface.
The vast majority of sulfur is used to manufacture a single compound, sulfuric acid. Sulfuric acid consistently ranks number one in the United States as the chemical produced in largest quantity. Sulfuric acid has a very large number of uses, including the manufacture of fertilizers, the refining of petroleum, the pickling of steel (the removal of oxides from the metal's surface), and the preparation of detergents, explosives, and synthetic fibers.
A significant amount of sulfur is also used to produce sulfur dioxide gas (actually an intermediary in the manufacture of sulfuric acid). Sulfur dioxide, in turn, is extensively used in the pulp and paper industry, as a refrigerant, and in the purification of sugar and the bleaching of paper and other products.
Some sulfur is refined after being mined and then used in its elemental form. This sulfur finds application in the vulcanization of rubber, as an insecticide or fungicide, and in the preparation of various chemicals and pharmaceuticals.
Greenwood, N.N., and A. Earnshaw. Chemistry of the Elements. 2nd ed. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinneman Press, 1997.
Klein, C. The Manual of Mineral Science. 22nd ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002.
David E. Newton
Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Incomplete dominance to IntuitionismIndustrial Minerals - Asbestos, Barite, Boron Compounds, Corundum, Fluorspar, Phosphates, Potassium Salts, Sodium Chloride - Feldspar