Hydrogen sulfide is the chemical compound with the formula H
2S. It is a colorless gas with the characteristic odor of rotten eggs.
It is very poisonous, corrosive, and flammable.
Hydrogen sulfide often results from the microbial breakdown of organic
matter in the absence of oxygen gas, such as in swamps and sewers;
this process is commonly known as anaerobic digestion. H
2S also occurs in volcanic gases, natural gas, and in some sources of
well water. The human body produces small amounts of H
2S and uses it as a signaling molecule.
Carl Wilhelm Scheele
Carl Wilhelm Scheele is credited with having
discovered hydrogen sulfide in 1777.
British English spelling of this compound is hydrogen sulphide,
but this spelling is not recommended by the International Union of
Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) or the Royal Society of Chemistry.
3.1 Production of sulfur, thioorganic compounds, and alkali metal
3.2 Analytical chemistry
3.3 Precursor to metal sulfides
3.4 Miscellaneous applications
4.1 Removal from water
4.2 Removal from fuel gases
Induced hypothermia and suspended animation
8 Participant in the sulfur cycle
9 Mass extinctions
10 Life adapted to hydrogen sulfide
11 See also
13 Additional resources
14 External links
Hydrogen sulfide is slightly denser than air; a mixture of H
2S and air can be explosive.
Hydrogen sulfide burns in oxygen with a
blue flame to form sulfur dioxide (SO
2) and water. In general, hydrogen sulfide acts as a reducing agent,
especially in the presence of base, which forms SH−.
At high temperatures or in the presence of catalysts, sulfur dioxide
reacts with hydrogen sulfide to form elemental sulfur and water. This
reaction is exploited in the Claus process, an important industrial
method to dispose of hydrogen sulfide.
Hydrogen sulfide is slightly soluble in water and acts as a weak acid
(pKa = 6.9 in 0.01–0.1 mol/litre solutions at
18 °C), giving the hydrosulfide ion HS−.
Hydrogen sulfide and
its solutions are colorless. When exposed to air, it slowly oxidizes
to form elemental sulfur, which is not soluble in water. The sulfide
anion S2− is not formed in aqueous solution.
Hydrogen sulfide reacts with metal ions to form metal sulfides, which
are insoluble, often dark colored solids.
Lead(II) acetate paper is
used to detect hydrogen sulfide because it readily converts to
lead(II) sulfide, which is black. Treating metal sulfides with strong
acid often liberates hydrogen sulfide.
At pressures above 90 GPa (gigapascal), hydrogen sulfide becomes
a metallic conductor of electricity. When cooled below a critical
temperature this high-pressure phase exhibits superconductivity. The
critical temperature increases with pressure, ranging from 23 K
at 100 GPa to 150 K at 200 GPa. If hydrogen sulfide
is pressurized at higher temperatures, then cooled, the critical
temperature reaches 203 K (−70 °C), the highest accepted
superconducting critical temperature as of 2015. By substituting a
small part of sulfur with phosphorus and using even higher pressures,
it has been predicted that it may be possible to raise the critical
temperature to above 0 °C (273 K) and achieve
Hydrogen sulfide is most commonly obtained by its separation from sour
gas, which is natural gas with high content of H
2S. It can also be produced by treating hydrogen with molten elemental
sulfur at about 450 °C. Hydrocarbons can serve as a source of
hydrogen in this process.
Sulfate-reducing (resp. sulfur-reducing) bacteria generate usable
energy under low-oxygen conditions by using sulfates (resp. elemental
sulfur) to oxidize organic compounds or hydrogen; this produces
hydrogen sulfide as a waste product.
A standard lab preparation is to treat ferrous sulfide with a strong
acid in a Kipp generator:
FeS + 2 HCl → FeCl2 + H2S
For use in qualitative inorganic analysis, thioacetamide is used to
CH3C(S)NH2 + H2O → CH3C(O)NH2 + H2S
Many metal and nonmetal sulfides, e.g. aluminium sulfide, phosphorus
pentasulfide, silicon disulfide liberate hydrogen sulfide upon
exposure to water:
6 H2O + Al2S3 → 3 H2S + 2 Al(OH)3
This gas is also produced by heating sulfur with solid organic
compounds and by reducing sulfurated organic compounds with hydrogen.
Water heaters can aid the conversion of sulfate in water to hydrogen
sulfide gas. This is due to providing a warm environment sustainable
for sulfur bacteria and maintaining the reaction which interacts
between sulfate in the water and the water heater anode, which is
usually made from magnesium metal.
Production of sulfur, thioorganic compounds, and alkali metal
The main use of hydrogen sulfide is as a precursor to elemental
sulfur. Several organosulfur compounds are produced using hydrogen
sulfide. These include methanethiol, ethanethiol, and thioglycolic
Upon combining with alkali metal bases, hydrogen sulfide converts to
alkali hydrosulfides such as sodium hydrosulfide and sodium sulfide:
H2S + NaOH → NaSH + H2O
NaSH + NaOH → Na2S + H2O
These compounds are used in the paper making. Specifically, salts of
SH− break bonds between lignin and cellulose components of pulp in
the Kraft process.
For well over a century, hydrogen sulfide was important in analytical
chemistry, in the qualitative inorganic analysis of metal ions. In
these analyses, heavy metal (and nonmetal) ions (e.g., Pb(II), Cu(II),
Hg(II), As(III)) are precipitated from solution upon exposure to H
2S. The components of the resulting precipitate redissolve with some
selectivity, and are thus identified.
Precursor to metal sulfides
As indicated above, many metal ions react with hydrogen sulfide to
give the corresponding metal sulfides. This conversion is widely
exploited. For example, gases or waters contaminated by hydrogen
sulfide can be cleaned with metals, by forming metal sulfides. In the
purification of metal ores by flotation, mineral powders are often
treated with hydrogen sulfide to enhance the separation. Metal parts
are sometimes passivated with hydrogen sulfide. Catalysts used in
hydrodesulfurization are routinely activated with hydrogen sulfide,
and the behavior of metallic catalysts used in other parts of a
refinery is also modified using hydrogen sulfide.
Hydrogen sulfide is used to separate deuterium oxide, or heavy water,
from normal water via the Girdler sulfide process.
Scientists from the
University of Exeter
University of Exeter discovered that cell exposure
to small amounts of hydrogen sulfide gas can prevent mitochondrial
damage. When the cell is stressed with disease, enzymes are drawn into
the cell to produce small amounts of hydrogen sulfide. This study
could have further implications on preventing strokes, heart disease
Hydrogen sulfide may have anti-aging properties by blocking
destructive chemicals within the cell, bearing similar properties to
resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red wine.
Deposit of sulfur on a rock, caused by volcanic gas
Small amounts of hydrogen sulfide occur in crude petroleum, but
natural gas can contain up to 90%. Volcanoes and some hot springs (as
well as cold springs) emit some H
2S, where it probably arises via the hydrolysis of sulfide minerals,
i.e. MS + H
2O → MO + H
Hydrogen sulfide can be present naturally in well
water, often as a result of the action of sulfate-reducing bacteria.
Hydrogen sulfide is created by the human body in small doses through
bacterial breakdown of proteins containing sulfur in the intestinal
tract. It is also produced in the mouth (halitosis).
A portion of global H
2S emissions are due to human activity. By far the largest industrial
source of H
2S is petroleum refineries: The hydrodesulfurization process liberates
sulfur from petroleum by the action of hydrogen. The resulting H
2S is converted to elemental sulfur by partial combustion via the
Claus process, which is a major source of elemental sulfur. Other
anthropogenic sources of hydrogen sulfide include coke ovens, paper
mills (using the Kraft process), tanneries and sewerage. H
2S arises from virtually anywhere where elemental sulfur comes in
contact with organic material, especially at high temperatures.
Depending on environmental conditions, it is responsible for
deterioration of material through the action of some sulfur oxidizing
microorganisms. It is called biogenic sulfide corrosion.
In 2011 it was reported that increased concentration of H
2S, possibly due to oil field practices, was observed in the Bakken
formation crude and presented challenges such as "health and
environmental risks, corrosion of wellbore, added expense with regard
to materials handling and pipeline equipment, and additional
Besides living near a gas and oil drilling operations, ordinary
citizens can be exposed to hydrogen sulfide by being near waste water
treatment facilities, landfills and farms with manure storage.
Exposure occurs through breathing contaminated air or drinking
Removal from water
A number of processes designed to remove hydrogen sulfide from
For levels up to 75 mg/L chlorine is used in the purification
process as an oxidizing chemical to react with hydrogen sulfide. This
reaction yields insoluble solid sulfur. Usually the chlorine used is
in the form of sodium hypochlorite.
For concentrations of hydrogen sulfide less than 2 mg/L aeration
is an ideal treatment process.
Oxygen is added to water and a reaction
between oxygen and hydrogen sulfide react to produce odorless
Calcium nitrate can be used to prevent hydrogen sulfide formation in
Removal from fuel gases
Hydrogen sulfide is commonly found in raw natural gas and biogas. It
is typically removed by amine gas treating technologies. In such
processes, the hydrogen sulfide is first converted to an ammonium
salt, whereas the natural gas is unaffected.
RNH2 + H2S ⇌ RNH+
3 + SH−
The bisulfide anion is subsequently regenerated by heating of the
amine sulfide solution.
Hydrogen sulfide generated in this process is
typically converted to elemental sulfur using the Claus Process.
Process flow diagram of a typical amine treating process used in
petroleum refineries, natural gas processing plants and other
Hydrogen sulfide is a highly toxic and flammable gas (flammable range:
4.3–46%). Being heavier than air, it tends to accumulate at the
bottom of poorly ventilated spaces. Although very pungent at first, it
quickly deadens the sense of smell, so victims may be unaware of its
presence until it is too late. For safe handling procedures, a
hydrogen sulfide safety data sheet (SDS) should be consulted.
Hydrogen sulfide is a broad-spectrum poison, meaning that it can
poison several different systems in the body, although the nervous
system is most affected. The toxicity of H
2S is comparable with that of carbon monoxide. It binds with iron
in the mitochondrial cytochrome enzymes, thus preventing cellular
Since hydrogen sulfide occurs naturally in the body, the environment,
and the gut, enzymes exist to detoxify it. At some threshold level,
believed to average around 300–350 ppm, the oxidative enzymes become
overwhelmed. Many personal safety gas detectors, such as those used by
utility, sewage and petrochemical workers, are set to alarm at as low
as 5 to 10 ppm and to go into high alarm at 15 ppm. Detoxification is
effected by oxidation to sulfate, which is harmless. Hence, low
levels of hydrogen sulfide may be tolerated indefinitely.
Diagnostic of extreme poisoning by H
2S is the discolouration of copper coins in the pockets of the victim.
Treatment involves immediate inhalation of amyl nitrite, injections of
sodium nitrite, or administration of
combination with inhalation of pure oxygen, administration of
bronchodilators to overcome eventual bronchospasm, and in some cases
hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). HBOT has clinical and anecdotal
Exposure to lower concentrations can result in eye irritation, a sore
throat and cough, nausea, shortness of breath, and fluid in the lungs
(pulmonary edema). These effects are believed to be due to the
fact that hydrogen sulfide combines with alkali present in moist
surface tissues to form sodium sulfide, a caustic. These symptoms
usually go away in a few weeks.
Long-term, low-level exposure may result in fatigue, loss of appetite,
headaches, irritability, poor memory, and dizziness. Chronic exposure
to low level H
2S (around 2 ppm) has been implicated in increased miscarriage and
reproductive health issues among Russian and Finnish wood pulp
workers, but the reports have not (as of circa 1995) been
Short-term, high-level exposure can induce immediate collapse, with
loss of breathing and a high probability of death. If death does not
occur, high exposure to hydrogen sulfide can lead to cortical
pseudolaminar necrosis, degeneration of the basal ganglia and cerebral
edema. Although respiratory paralysis may be immediate, it can
also be delayed up to 72 hours.
0.00047 ppm or 0.47 ppb is the odor threshold, the point at
which 50% of a human panel can detect the presence of an odor without
being able to identify it.
10 ppm is the OSHA permissible exposure limit (PEL) (8 hour
10–20 ppm is the borderline concentration for eye irritation.
20 ppm is the acceptable ceiling concentration established by
50 ppm is the acceptable maximum peak above the ceiling
concentration for an 8-hour shift, with a maximum duration of 10
50–100 ppm leads to eye damage.
At 100–150 ppm the olfactory nerve is paralyzed after a few
inhalations, and the sense of smell disappears, often together with
awareness of danger.
320–530 ppm leads to pulmonary edema with the possibility of
530–1000 ppm causes strong stimulation of the central nervous
system and rapid breathing, leading to loss of breathing.
800 ppm is the lethal concentration for 50% of humans for 5
minutes' exposure (LC50).
Concentrations over 1000 ppm cause immediate collapse with loss
of breathing, even after inhalation of a single breath.
Hydrogen sulfide was used by the
British Army as a chemical weapon
during World War I. It was not considered to be an ideal war gas, but,
while other gases were in short supply, it was used on two occasions
In 1975, a hydrogen sulfide release from an oil drilling operation in
Denver City, Texas, killed nine people and caused the state
legislature to focus on the deadly hazards of the gas. State
E L Short
E L Short took the lead in endorsing an investigation
by the Texas Railroad Commission and urged that residents be warned
"by knocking on doors if necessary" of the imminent danger stemming
from the gas. One may die from the second inhalation of the gas, and a
warning itself may be too late.
On September 2, 2005, a leak in the propeller room of a Royal
Caribbean Cruise Liner docked in Los Angeles resulted in the deaths of
3 crewmen due to a sewage line leak. As a result, all such
compartments are now required to have a ventillation system.
A dump of toxic waste containing hydrogen sulfide is believed to have
caused 17 deaths and thousands of illnesses in Abidjan, on the West
African coast, in the 2006 Côte d'Ivoire toxic waste dump.
In 2014, Levels of
Sulfide as high as 83 ppm have been
detected at a recently built mall in Thailand called
Siam Square One
Siam Square area. Shop tenants at the mall reported health
complications such as sinus inflammation, breathing difficulties and
eye irritation. After investigation it was determined that the large
amount of gas originated from imperfect treatment and disposal of
waste water in the building.
In November 2014, a substantial amount of hydrogen sulfide gas
shrouded the central, eastern and southeastern parts of Moscow.
Residents living in the area were urged to stay indoors by the
emergencies ministry. Although the exact source of the gas was not
known, blame had been placed on a
Moscow oil refinery.
In June 2016, a mother and her daughter were found deceased in their
Porsche Cayenne SUV against a guardrail on Florida's
Turnpike, initially thought to be victims of
poisoning. Their deaths remained unexplained as the medical
examiner waited for results of toxicology tests on the victims,
until urine tests revealed that hydrogen sulfide was the cause of
death. A report from the Orange-Osceola Medical Examiner’s
Office indicated that toxic fumes came from the Porsche’s battery,
located under the front passenger seat.
In January 2017, three utility workers in Key Largo, Florida, died one
by one within seconds of descending into a narrow space beneath a
manhole cover to check a section of paved street, the hole was
filled with hydrogen sulfide and methane gas created from years of
rotted vegetation. In an attempt to save the men, a firefighter
who entered the hole without his air tank (because he could not fit
through the hole with it) collapsed within seconds and had to be
rescued by a colleague. The firefighter was airlifted to
Jackson Memorial Hospital and later recovered.
The gas, produced by mixing certain household ingredients, was used in
a suicide wave in 2008 in Japan. The wave prompted staff at
Tokyo's suicide prevention center to set up a special hot line during
"Golden Week", as they received an increase in calls from people
wanting to kill themselves during the annual May holiday.
As of 2010, this phenomenon has occurred in a number of US cities,
prompting warnings to those arriving at the site of the
suicide. These first responders, such as emergency
services workers or family members are at risk of death from inhaling
lethal quantities of the gas, or by fire. Local governments
have also initiated campaigns to prevent such suicides.
Hydrogen sulfide is derived from cysteine by the enzymes cystathionine
beta-synthase, cystathionine gamma-lyase, and 3-mercaptopyruvate
Hydrogen sulfide may act as an endothelium-derived
relaxing factor from which it could affect vascular resistance,
and may be an endothelium-derived hyperpolarizing factor. The gas
is metabolized to sulfite in the mitochondria by thiosulfate
reductase, and the sulfite is further oxidized to thiosulfate and
sulfate by sulfite oxidase. The sulfates are excreted in the
Hydrogen sulfide is under preliminary research for its potential
actions in the brain where it could increase the response of the NMDA
receptor and facilitate long term potentiation. Its effects are
potentially similar to those of nitric oxide, whereby hydrogen sulfide
may have an effect on cardiovascular disease. Although both nitric
oxide and hydrogen sulfide relax blood vessels in vitro, their
mechanisms of action differ: nitric oxide activates the enzyme
guanylyl cyclase, whereas H
2S activates ATP-sensitive potassium channels in smooth muscle
Induced hypothermia and suspended animation
In 2005, it was shown that mice can be put into a state of suspended
animation-like hypothermia by applying a low dosage of hydrogen
sulfide (81 ppm H
2S) in the air. The breathing rate of the animals sank from 120 to 10
breaths per minute and their temperature fell from 37 °C to just
2 °C above ambient temperature (in effect, they had become
cold-blooded). The mice survived this procedure for 6 hours and
afterwards showed no negative health consequences. In 2006 it was
shown that the blood pressure of mice treated in this fashion with
hydrogen sulfide did not significantly decrease.
A similar process known as hibernation occurs naturally in many
mammals and also in toads, but not in mice. (Mice can fall into a
state called clinical torpor when food shortage occurs.) If the H
2S-induced hibernation can be made to work in humans, it could be
useful in the emergency management of severely injured patients, and
in the conservation of donated organs. In 2008, hypothermia induced by
hydrogen sulfide for 48 hours was shown to reduce the extent of brain
damage caused by experimental stroke in rats.
As mentioned above, hydrogen sulfide binds to cytochrome oxidase and
thereby prevents oxygen from binding, which leads to the dramatic
slowdown of metabolism. Animals and humans naturally produce some
hydrogen sulfide in their body; researchers have proposed that the gas
is used to regulate metabolic activity and body temperature, which
would explain the above findings.
Two recent studies cast doubt that the effect can be achieved in
larger mammals. A 2008 study failed to reproduce the effect in pigs,
concluding that the effects seen in mice were not present in larger
mammals. Likewise a paper by Haouzi et al. noted that there is no
induction of hypometabolism in sheep, either.
At the February 2010 TED conference, Mark Roth announced that hydrogen
sulfide induced hypothermia in humans had completed Phase I clinical
trials. The clinical trials commissioned by the company he helped
found, Ikaria, were however withdrawn or terminated by August
Participant in the sulfur cycle
Sludge from a pond; the black color is due to metal sulfides
Hydrogen sulfide is a central participant in the sulfur cycle, the
biogeochemical cycle of sulfur on Earth.
In the absence of oxygen, sulfur-reducing and sulfate-reducing
bacteria derive energy from oxidizing hydrogen or organic molecules by
reducing elemental sulfur or sulfate to hydrogen sulfide. Other
bacteria liberate hydrogen sulfide from sulfur-containing amino acids;
this gives rise to the odor of rotten eggs and contributes to the odor
As organic matter decays under low-oxygen (or hypoxic) conditions
(such as in swamps, eutrophic lakes or dead zones of oceans),
sulfate-reducing bacteria will use the sulfates present in the water
to oxidize the organic matter, producing hydrogen sulfide as waste.
Some of the hydrogen sulfide will react with metal ions in the water
to produce metal sulfides, which are not water-soluble. These metal
sulfides, such as ferrous sulfide FeS, are often black or brown,
leading to the dark color of sludge.
Several groups of bacteria can use hydrogen sulfide as fuel, oxidizing
it to elemental sulfur or to sulfate by using dissolved oxygen, metal
oxides (e.g., Fe oxyhydroxides and Mn oxides) or nitrate as
The purple sulfur bacteria and the green sulfur bacteria use hydrogen
sulfide as electron donor in photosynthesis, thereby producing
elemental sulfur. (In fact, this mode of photosynthesis is older than
the mode of cyanobacteria, algae, and plants, which uses water as
electron donor and liberates oxygen.)
The biochemistry of hydrogen sulfide is an important part of the
chemistry of the iron-sulfur world. In this model of the origin of
life on Earth, geologically produced hydrogen sulfide is postulated as
an electron donor driving the reduction of carbon dioxide.
Main article: Anoxic event
A hydrogen sulfide bloom (green) stretching for about 150km along the
coast of Namibia. As oxygen-poor water reaches the coast, bacteria in
the organic-matter rich sediment produce hydrogen sulfide which is
toxic to fish. (The image is taken from a bird's eye view.)
Hydrogen sulfide has been implicated in several mass extinctions that
have occurred in the Earth's past. In particular, a buildup of
hydrogen sulfide in the atmosphere may have caused the
Permian-Triassic extinction event
Permian-Triassic extinction event 252 million years ago.
Organic residues from these extinction boundaries indicate that the
oceans were anoxic (oxygen-depleted) and had species of shallow
plankton that metabolized H
2S. The formation of H
2S may have been initiated by massive volcanic eruptions, which
emitted carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, which warmed
the oceans, lowering their capacity to absorb oxygen that would
otherwise oxidize H
2S. The increased levels of hydrogen sulfide could have killed
oxygen-generating plants as well as depleted the ozone layer, causing
further stress. Small H
2S blooms have been detected in modern times in the
Dead Sea and in
Atlantic ocean off the coast of Namibia.
Life adapted to hydrogen sulfide
High levels of hydrogen sulfide are lethal to most animals, but a few
highly specialized species (extremophiles) do thrive in habitats that
are rich in this chemical.
Freshwater springs rich in hydrogen sulfide are mainly home to
invertebrates, but also include a small number of fish: Cyprinodon
bobmilleri (a pupfish from Mexico), Limia sulphurophila (a poeciliid
from the Dominican Republic),
Gambusia eurystoma (a poeciliid from
Mexico), and a few
Poecilia (poeciliids from Mexico).
Invertebrates and microorganisms in some cave systems, such as Movile
Cave, are adapted to high levels of hydrogen sulfide.
In the deep sea, hydrothermal vents and cold seeps with high levels of
hydrogen sulfide are home to a number of extremely specialized
lifeforms, ranging from bacteria to fish.[which?] Because of the
absence of light at these depths, these ecosystems rely on
chemosynthesis rather than photosynthesis.
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to
International Chemical Safety Card 0165
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NACE (National Association of Corrosion Epal)
Major excitatory/inhibitory systems: Glutamate system: Agmatine
Aspartic acid (aspartate)
Glutamic acid (glutamate)
Serine; GABA system: GABA
Glycine system: α-Alanine
Taurine; GHB system: GHB
Biogenic amines: Monoamines: 6-OHM
Serotonin (5-HT); Trace amines: 3-Iodothyronamine
p-Tyramine; Others: Histamine
Neuropeptides: See here instead.
2-AGE (noladin ether)
Neurosteroids: See here instead.
Adenosine system: Adenosine
Cholinergic system: Acetylcholine
Carbon monoxide (CO)
Hydrogen sulfide (H2S)
Nitric oxide (NO); Candidates: Acetaldehyde
Carbonyl sulfide (COS)
Nitrous oxide (N2O)
Sulfur dioxide (SO2)
Molecules detected in outer space
Magnesium monohydride cation
Hydrogen cyanide (HCN)
Hydrogen isocyanide (HNC)
Protonated molecular hydrogen
Protonated carbon dioxide
Protonated hydrogen cyanide
Buckminsterfullerene (C60 fullerene, buckyball)
Ethyl methyl ether
Atomic and molecular astrophysics
Diffuse interstellar band
Earliest known life forms
Extraterrestrial liquid water
Helium hydride ion
Iron–sulfur world theory
Molecules in stars
Nexus for Exoplanet System Science
PAH world hypothesis
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH)
RNA world hypothesis
Binary compounds of hydrogen
Alkali metal hydrides
Lithium hydride, LiH
ionic metal hydride
Left (gas phase): BeH2
covalent metal hydride
Right: (BeH2)n (solid phase)
polymeric metal hydride
Borane and diborane
Left: BH3 (special conditions), covalent metalloid hydride
Right: B2H6 (standard conditions), dimeric metalloid hydride
covalent nonmetal hydride
covalent nonmetal hydride
covalent nonmetal hydride
Hydrogen fluoride, HF
covalent nonmetal hydride
Alkaline earth hydrides
Group 13 hydrides
Group 14 hydrides
Transition metal hydrides
PdHx (x < 1)