AskDefine | Define sulfate

Dictionary Definition

sulfate n : a salt or ester of sulphuric acid [syn: sulphate]

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


  1. Any ester of sulfuric acid.
  2. Any salt of sulfuric acid.

Derived terms


organic chemistry: any ester of sulfuric acid
inorganic chemistry: any salt of sulfuric acid


  1. transitive chemistry To treat something with sulfuric acid, a sulfate, or with sulfur dioxide.
  2. In the context of "of a lead-acid battery": To accumulate a deposit of lead sulfate.


to treat with sulfuric acid
  • Italian: solfitare
of lead batteries: to accumulate a deposit of lead sulfate

Extensive Definition

In inorganic chemistry, a sulfate (IUPAC-recommended spelling; also sulphate in British English) is a salt of sulfuric acid.

Chemical properties

The sulfate ion is a polyatomic anion with the empirical formula SO42− and a molecular mass of 96.06 daltons; it consists of a central sulfur atom surrounded by four equivalent oxygen atoms in a tetrahedral arrangement. The sulfate ion carries a negative two charge and is the conjugate base of the bisulfate (or hydrogen sulfate) ion, HSO4−, which is the conjugate base of H2SO4, sulfuric acid. Organic sulfates, such as dimethyl sulfate, are covalent compounds and esters of sulfuric acid.


Methods of preparing ionic sulfates include:


Many examples of ionic sulfates are known, and many of these are highly soluble in water. Exceptions include calcium sulfate, strontium sulfate, and barium sulfate, which are poorly soluble. The barium derivative is useful in the gravimetric analysis of sulfate: one adds a solution of, perhaps, barium chloride to a solution containing sulfate ions. The appearance of a white precipitate, which is barium sulfate, indicates that sulfate anions are present.
The sulfate ion can act as a ligand attaching either by one oxygen (monodentate) or by two oxygens as either a chelate or a bridge.
Later, Linus Pauling used valence bond theory to propose that the most significant resonance canonicals had two π bonds (see above) involving d orbitals. His reasoning was that the charge on sulfur was thus reduced, in accordance with his principle of electroneutrality. The double bonding was taken by Pauling to account for the shortness of the S-O bond (149 pm).
Pauling's use of d orbitals provoked a debate on the relative importance of π bonding and bond polarity (electrostatic attraction) in causing the shortening of the S-O bond. The outcome was a broad consensus that d orbitals play a role, but are not as significant as Pauling had believed. A widely accepted description involves pπ - dπ bonding, initially proposed by D.W.J Cruickshank, where fully occupied p orbitals on oxygen overlap with empty sulfur d orbitals (principally the dz2 and dx2-y2). In this description, while there is some π character to the S-O bonds, the bond has significant ionic character. This explanation is quoted in some current textbooks. The Pauling bonding representation for sulfate and other main group compounds with oxygen is a common way of representing the bonding in many textbooks. Green vitriol is ferrous sulfate heptahydrate, FeSO4·7H2O; blue vitriol is copper sulfate pentahydrate, CuSO4·5H2O and white vitriol is zinc sulfate heptahydrate, ZnSO4·7H2O. Alum, a double sulfate with the formula K2Al2(SO4)4·24H2O, figured in the development of the chemical industry.

Environmental effects

Sulfates occur as microscopic particles (aerosols) resulting from fossil fuel and biomass combustion. They increase the acidity of the atmosphere and form acid rain.

Main effects on climate

The main direct effect of sulfates on the climate involves the scattering of light, effectively increasing the Earth's albedo. This effect is moderately well understood and leads to a cooling from the negative radiative forcing of about 0.5 W/m2 relative to pre-industrial values, partially offsetting the larger (about 2.4 W/m2) warming effect of greenhouse gases. The effect is strongly spatially non-uniform, being largest downstream of large industrial areas.
The first indirect effect is also known as the Twomey effect. Sulfate aerosols can act as cloud condensation nuclei and this leads to greater numbers of smaller droplets of water. Lots of smaller droplets can diffuse light more efficiently than just a few larger droplets.
The second indirect effect is the further knock-on effects of having more cloud condensation nuclei. It is proposed that these include the suppression of drizzle, increased cloud height, to facilitate cloud formation at low humidities and longer cloud lifetime. Sulfate may also result in changes in the particle size distribution, which can affect the clouds radiative properties in ways that are not fully understood. Chemical effects such as the dissolution of soluble gases and slightly soluble substances, surface tension depression by organic substances and accommodation coefficient changes are also included in the second indirect effect.
The indirect effects probably have a cooling effect, perhaps up to 2 W/m2, although the uncertainty is very large. Sulfates are therefore implicated in global dimming, which may have acted to offset some of the effects of global warming.

Other sulfur oxoanions

See also


sulfate in Bosnian: Sulfat
sulfate in Catalan: Sulfat
sulfate in Czech: Sírany
sulfate in Danish: Sulfat
sulfate in German: Sulfate
sulfate in Estonian: Sulfaadid
sulfate in Spanish: Sulfato
sulfate in French: Sulfate
sulfate in Galician: Sulfato
sulfate in Italian: Solfato
sulfate in Hebrew: סולפט
sulfate in Latvian: Sulfāti
sulfate in Lithuanian: Sulfatai
sulfate in Hungarian: Szulfát
sulfate in Malay (macrolanguage): Sulfat
sulfate in Dutch: Sulfaat
sulfate in Japanese: 硫酸塩
sulfate in Norwegian: Sulfat
sulfate in Norwegian Nynorsk: Sulfat
sulfate in Polish: Siarczany
sulfate in Portuguese: Sulfato
sulfate in Slovak: Síran
sulfate in Serbian: Сулфат
sulfate in Finnish: Sulfaatti
sulfate in Swedish: Sulfat
sulfate in Ukrainian: Сульфати
sulfate in Chinese: 硫酸鹽
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