Potassium Aluminum Sulfate
Potassium aluminum sulfate is chemical which conforms to the general formula KAl(SO4)2. Also known as aluminum potassium sulfate, its unique characteristics have made it an important compound to many industries.
The commercial production of potassium aluminum sulfate is typically accomplished by a method called hydrometallurgy. In this process, an aqueous solution of sulfuric acid is first used to extract alumina (solid Al2O3) from an ore called bauxite. This step, known as leaching, results in a solution which can then be reacted with potassium sulfate to form potassium aluminum sulfate. Another method of production involves converting aluminum sulfate to potassium aluminum sulfate by adding potassium sulfate. In addition to these chemical processes, potassium aluminum sulfate is also found occurring naturally in minerals such as alunite and kalinite. Commercially available potassium aluminum sulfate is called potassium alum, potash alum, alum flour, or alum meal.
Potassium aluminum sulfate forms a solid, white powder at room temperature. It is a hygroscopic material which when exposed to air, hydrates (absorbs water). Depending on the amount of water molecules present, these hydrates are represented by the chemical formulas KAl(SO4)2 • 12H2O or K2SO4.Al2(SO4)3 • 24H2O. The powder form, made up of crystals, has a melting point of 198.5°F (92.5°C) and can be readily dissolved in water. Additionally, this material has a property known as astringency which is an ability to constrict body tissues, and restrict the flow of blood.
There have been many industrial applications of potassium aluminum sulfate. It is an important part of many products created by the pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and food industries because of its astringency property. It is also used in the manufacture of paper, dyes, glue, and explosives. Additionally, it helps in the water purification process, is used to speed up the hardening of concrete and plaster, and acts as a catalyst in various chemical reactions.