Sulfur Fire

Hydrogen Sulfide

Hydrogen Sulfide doesn’t have much to do with strategy but I thought I’d publish this mini-post as Patron-only bonus content anyway since it didn’t make it into my piece on disasters:

Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) is a funny substance. Not only is it extremely flammable, but it’s also very toxic to humans. Fortunately, it has the very distinct smell of rotten eggs – an early warning sign – above 0.5 parts per billion. Unfortunately, at higher concentrations that smell vanishes after only 2 or 3 sniffs as the nerves in your nose become paralyzed.

The maximum recommended concentration is only 20 ppm. But as the concentration of H2S increases to about 1000 parts per million, one breath will instantly cause you to pass out, collapse, and stop breathing. H2S binds to the enzymes that allow your cells to convert sugar and oxygen into energy – energy your body needs constantly.

H2S has one last nasty property: it’s heavier than air, meaning that H2S hugs the ground and dissipates more slowly than other gases. So what typically happens is that you’re wondering around the refinery, smell rotten eggs, pass out, collapse on the ground, and inhale even higher concentrations of H2S until you stop breathing and die.

Hmm.. maybe there is a strategy lesson here. Hydrogen Sulfide is one of those substances that’s almost too deadly to handle. At my refinery we didn’t handle it much. In fact, we paid another company who had deep expertise in H2S to build an H2S processing plant inside of our refinery. They turned H2S into pure sulfur (S) and water.

Are there parts of your business or life – like hydrogen sulfide – that are too deadly to handle? Can you pass off the risk to someone else? Can you eliminate them altogether? Or can you specialize in handling the most toxic or deadly parts of someone else’s business?

PS: Pure sulfur is pretty flammable too… and you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a sulfur pit fire. As the burning sulfur heats up, it melts, turning blood red while the flame itself it blue…

Sulfur Fire

Sulfur Fire Video

If you listen carefully, you can hear the respirator that the person who’s recording the video is using in order to avoid inhaling the toxic by-products of burning sulfur.