Sulphur (S) is an important element in nature. As a constituent of proteins, has a similar nutrient value to nitrogen (N) and is essential to the life of plants, with its lack causing similar effects to the lack of nitrogen. Sulphur is found in meteorites, volcanoes, hot springs, and as galena, gypsum, Epsom salts and barite. It is also a minor constituent of fats, body fluids, and skeletal minerals. Sulphur is a pale yellow, with a slight rotten egg odour, brittle solid, which is insoluble in water but soluble in carbon disulphide. As a native element in nature, it can be extracted using the Frasch process, which means that sulphur can be extracted from underground without mining it. In the Frasch process, underground deposits of sulphur are forced to the surface using superheated water and steam (to melt the sulphur) and compressed air. This gives molten sulphur, which is allowed to cool in large basins. Purity can reach 99.5%. The process is energy intense. However, sulphur is also produced chemically as a by product of crude oil and natural gas, in crush lump, flake and prilled form.

Sulphur can be absorbed by plants as a radical element (S04) or from air as Hydrogen sulphide (SO2). Due to reduced emissions of sulphur into the atmosphere in recent years (sulphur dioxide is a dangerous component in atmospheric air pollution and is one of the factors responsible for acid rain) and a decline in usage of some chemical fertilizers that contain sulphur, sulphur has become gradually less available to crops.

Most of the sulphur produced is used to make sulphuric acid (H2SO4), which has many uses including the synthesis of fertilizers and polyamides. The production of one tonne of 100% H2SO4 requires 0.33 tonne of sulphur. Sulphuric acid is used in the production of ammonium sulphate (0.74 tonne), single superphosphate SSP (0.37 tonne) and phosphoric acid (wet process 2.8 tonnes). Phosphoric acid is then used as a raw material for the production of Diammonium phosphate (DAP),Monoammonium phosphate (MAP) and triple superphosphate (TSP).

Other industrial uses of sulphur includes production of black gunpowder, asphalt, vulcanisation of natural rubber, as a fungicide and as a fumigant, use in the bleaching of dried fruits and for paper products.

To find out more The Market Methodology September 2013

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