Molecules that changed the world: Sulphuric Acid (H2SO4)
A country’s production of sulphuric acid is a good indication of its industrial might, because at some stage nearly every manufactured good comes into contact with this highly corrosive stuff. It’s used in mining, steel production, oil refining and chemical synthesis, and in the manufacture of fertilisers, detergents and plastics. No wonder it’s nicknamed “the king of chemicals”. Sulphuric acid was discovered in the 8th century, but it only became economically viable in 1746, when English chemist John Roebuck developed a way to produce it in bulk. In 2005 world production of sulphuric acid was estimated at 193 million tonnes.