How Is Sulfur Mined?

sulfur-mined Credit: Bertrand Linet/Moment/Getty Images

At the beginning of the 1900s, the Frasch process of mining sulfur became the most popular way of extracting it. However, by the end of the 1900s, most sulfur has been manufactured by recovering it from petroleum and gas.

The Frasch process is a way of harvesting deep lying sulphur from the ground that was developed by chemist Herman Frasch. In this process, water is heated to 170 degrees Celsius and pumped down into the earth, where it melts the sulfur. The sulfur is then lifted to the surface using compressed air and put into huge vats where the water slowly evaporates out of the sulfur. This process was the most common way to harvest sulfur, but only from 1895 to 1970.

After 1970, it was discovered that sulfur could be created from oil and gas. Some types of oil and gas are considered "sour," or sulfur rich. Sulfur is extracted during the refining process for oil. Sulfur is mainly recovered in select areas, which include United States, Canada, the Former Soviet Union and West Asia.

Industrially, sulfur is used to produce sulfuric acid, which is the most popular chemical in the world. Sulfuric acid is required in many intermediary steps in manufacturing and chemical industries.