SO2: What is it? Where does it come from?

Sulfur dioxide, or SO2, belongs to the family of sulfur oxide gases (SOx). These gases dissolve easily in water. Sulfur is prevalent in all raw materials, including crude oil, coal, and ore that contains common metals like aluminum, copper, zinc, lead, and iron. SOx gases are formed when fuel containing sulfur, such as coal and oil, is burned, and when gasoline is extracted from oil, or metals are extracted from the ore. SO2 dissolves in water vapor to form acid and interacts with other gases and particles in the air to form sulfates and other products that can be harmful to people and their environment.

Over 65% of SO2 released to the air, or more than 13 million tons per year, comes from electric utilities, especially those that burn coal. Other sources of SO2 are industrial facilities that derive their products from raw materials like metallic ore, coal, and crude oil, or that burn coal or oil to produce process heat. Examples are petroleum refineries, cement manufacturing, and metal processing facilities. Also, locomotives, large ships, and some nonroad diesel equipment currently burn high sulfur fuel and release SO2 emissions to the air in large quantities.


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