Sulfur Dioxide, Acid Rain, and How Gas Chromatography is Here To Help

Discover how gas chromatography can heal your sulfur dioxide woes.

Guest Author: Tim Nelson, Global Marketing Manager, Fuels & Chemicals

We can all agree that acidic rain is not “sweet” in any way. The term acid rain doesn’t even sound good, and the thought of acid getting on anything isn’t a pleasant one.  But what is acid rain, and is it as horrible as it sounds? Acid rain happens when sulfur is burned in fuel and creates sulfur dioxide. The sulfur dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere and then converts to sulfuric acid that then drops from the sky as acidic rain in all parts of the globe. 

So even engine exhaust created on the other side of the planet can and will reach us, by wind, fog, snow, and rain. Because of this, we really can’t hide from this phenomenon. And the concern of being affected by acid rain is certain to next time take away the sweet joy of catching a snowflake on our tongue. 

As a result of the acid rain concern and other associated negative environmental impacts, government environmental regulators have taken action to put a squeeze on the levels of sulfur allowed in fuel. Sulfur occurs naturally in crude oil and it is a costly challenge in the refineries. It is the “sour” in the term sour crude.

As the amount of sulfur goes down, the sweeter the oil, and therefore the greater the value of the oil. This is because removing sulfur is costly.  It is not a coincidence that “sweet” is a descriptive term when eating, as people used to taste the oil to determine the sulfur level.  Fortunately for our taste buds, science has evolved over the years, and there are now better tools to measure the total level of sulfur and to speciate the sulfur components, molecule by molecule.

Phenomenex’s Zebron™ ZB-1 thick film capillary gas chromatography column is a great tool for breaking apart the complex petroleum matrices in order to map out where the sulfur is hiding.  This is a great tool for refiners as they can utilize the right resources to extract the sulfur from the petroleum.  For further details on Zebron ZB-1 and its sweet performance explore the full technical application at:

Sulfur Dioxide

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