Industrial manufacturers are always looking for new ways to use existing chemical compounds. Since chemists have already discovered so many compounds, it becomes harder to find new ones. This places greater pressure on researchers to find new uses for the compounds that we already have.
Sulfonic acid is one compound that chemists use in many different applications. From automotive manufacturing to medicine, you’ve likely encountered sulfonic acid in some form at least once. Learn more about the properties of this compound, as well as five industrial applications for sulfonic acid.
What Is Sulfonic Acid?
Sulfonic acid is a chemical compound—that means it contains at least two different elements combined together. The main elements in sulfonic acid are sulfur, oxygen, and hydrogen, but the actual formula is more complicated than that. Because they contain sulfur, sulfonic acids are also called organosulfur compounds.
In general, sulfonic acids are very strong acids that come in crystal or liquid form. They typically don’t have any color and they don’t oxidize, which means that they don’t react with oxygen. Some sulfonic acids are soluble in water. These properties make sulfonic acids an incredibly useful family of compounds because scientists can control them with ease. They’re also much less dangerous to use than other acids.
Common Sulfonic Acids
Some sulfonic acids are so well-known that they have their own special names. Here are some of the most commonly used sulfonic acids and their uses:
- Taurine: A rare, naturally occurring sulfonic acid used in energy drinks and cosmetics.
- PFOS: It was previously used in Scotchguard, but it’s currently used in fire-resistant foams.
- p-Toluenesulfonic acid (pTSA): This is used in organic synthesis reactions.
- Nafion: A proton conductor used in fuel cells and antimicrobial coatings.
- Sodium dodecylbenzene sulfonate: A surfactant used in laundry detergents.
- Coenzyme-M: This is used in the production of methane gas.
Industrial Uses for Sulfonic Acid
As you can probably tell from reading the sections above, sulfonic acids are incredibly versatile. They come in many different forms, further increasing the kinds of reactions and products you can get using these acids. For example, some sulfonic acids are solid at room temperature, which makes them very easy to store and transport. In the rest of this post, we’ll explain more about the different industries that use sulfonic acids.
Laundry and Dish Detergents
Sulfonic acids are a common ingredient in detergents, whether for laundry or cleaning dishes. That’s because the acids function as surfactants, which reduce the surface tension of liquids. When you add detergent with sulfonic acid to water, it helps the other ingredients in the detergent clean more effectively. Sulfonic acid actually makes it possible to get more cleaning power using less detergent.
If you’ve ever worn a piece of clothing that’s any color besides white, you’ve probably worn a sulfonic acid dye. Sulfonic acids are very good at binding to proteins and carbohydrates, which are commonly found in clothing fibers. The dyes cling to the fibers and don’t wash out, making your clothing washable without the concern of fading. There are even some versions of sulfonic acid that go into making dyes for food.
One industrial application for sulfonic acid is making paper from wood pulp. Normally, wood pulp is too tough and rigid to make paper out of, so the wood has to go through a series of treatments. First, the manufacturers have to turn the lignin—the polymer that makes tree fiber tough—into lignosulfonates, which they then reduce into almost pure cellulose. In each of these steps, sulfonic acids play an important role in separating the chemical bonds that create polymers, helping break down wood pulp into material that manufacturers can use to make paper. This approach is known as the sulfite process.
Paper Before Wood Pulp
Did you know that paper used to be made out of rags? Prior to the 1800s, Western papermaking involved breaking down cotton rags into paper. While early papermakers didn’t have sulfonic acid around to help break down the fibers, they did use another common acid: human urine. Papermaking before the invention of the sulfite process was a smelly business indeed.
Sulfonic acids are common ingredients in medicine, especially antibacterial drugs. These medicines help kill bacteria, but because some people can have an allergic reaction to them, doctors must be careful who they prescribe them to. Antibacterial drugs containing sulfonic acid are called sulfonamides. Doctors commonly prescribe them to people who have suffered severe burns, parasites, urinary tract infections, and chronic respiratory illnesses. Some sulfonamides are exclusively used in food animals to improve their health.
Not all sulfonamides help with killing bacteria. Some are used to treat conditions like epilepsy and seizures; there are even sulfonamides that can help treat diabetes and arthritis. These sulfonamides don’t exhibit the same bacteria-killing properties as other sulfonamides.
Catalysts are reaction components that speed up chemical reactions without changing themselves. Sulfonic acids are very common catalysts because they are soluble in most organic solvents. Some types of sulfonic acid are even used in water-softening processes because they help break surface tension.
What Makes Sulfonic Acids Special?
Sulfonic acids are special when it comes to chemical reactions because of several unique properties. Sulfonic acids like methanesulfonic aren’t explosive, which makes them safer to work with than other acids, like nitric and sulfuric acid. It’s also liquid at room temperature and highly soluble. These traits are very useful when chemists are setting up chemical reactions to create other compounds, like borane.
A Sulfonic Acid Supplier
If you’re looking for a sulfonic acid supplier, check out Capital Resin. We’re a highly experienced chemical manufacturing company and we partner with all kinds of industries. If you have a need for sulfonic acid for a product you’re designing, let us help you make that plan a reality.
Capital Resin has been in the business for nearly 50 years. We use that experience to help you in whatever way we can, from manufacturing chemicals to storing, packaging, and shipping them for you. Need a custom compound synthesized for a new project? We even provide research and development, and chemical toll manufacturing.
One benefit of using a chemical partner with so much experience is that we know how to keep projects moving. If you’re worried about delays with transportation and shipping, work with someone who has plenty of experience navigating these kinds of arrangements.