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Environ Sci Technol. 2006 Nov 1;40(21):6782-6.

Control of acidity development on solid sulfur due to bacterial action.

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EniTecnologie, Via E. Ramarini 32, Monterotondo, RM, Italy.


The global production of sulfur, which is currently obtained almost exclusively as an involuntary byproduct of the oil and gas industry, is exceeding the market demand so that long term storage or even definitive disposal of elemental sulfur is often needed to handle production surplus. The storage of large quantities of elemental sulfur calls for solidifying liquid sulfur in huge blocks, hundred meters wide on each side and as high as 20 meters. Sulfur, in presence of water and air, can be oxidized to sulfuric acid by a ubiquitous microorganism: Thiobacillus. On large blocks, this natural phenomenon may lead to soil and water acidification. Research projects have addressed suppression of Thiobacilli activity to prevent acidification, but no industrial applications have been reported. This work describes the inhibition of sulfur biological oxidation attainable by exposing sulfur to a high ionic strength environment. The bacteriostatic action is produced by contacting sulfur with a solution of an inorganic salt, such as sodium chloride, having an ionic strength similar to sea water. Possible ways to exploit the inhibitory effect to prevent the generation of acidity from sulfur storage blocks are suggested.

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