The global sulphur markets are covered weekly by ICIS in The Market. The Market gives you the global view on the fertilizer market, and is tailored for the international fertilizers business. The commentary includes supply and demand trends, production news, shipping enquiries, fertilizer prices and price drivers and fluctuations.
Commodities covered in The Market include:
Updated to Q1 2021
Towards the end of Q1, spot availability from the Middle East was tight, as tonnes were being dedicated to import markets in Africa and the West. The Amabtovy Nickel mine in Madagascar restarted operations, sourcing up to 500,000 tonnes a year of sulphur from the Arab Gulf.
Buying activity was sustained during Q1. The downstream phosphates sector was firm throughout, which boosted sentiment for feedstock sulphur in China and India.
In northwest Europe, liquid sulphur supply remained tight, amid reduced output from refineries, due to the impact of the coronavirus. The closure of the Volga-Don waterways during the winter months limited trade flows out of the CIS region. Ongoing factors such as a move to sweeter crude and plant turnarounds also continued to impact supply.
Demand increased, as many buyers were not able to acquire their full sulphur requirements during Q1 settlements in January and were in search of additional tonnes. INEOS’s sulphur burner at Runcorn remained offline during Q1. The company announced in late March that it had opted to permanently shut the unit, removing 20,000-70,000 tonnes of sulphur demand from the UK market.
Supply was already tight in the US due to low refinery run rates heading into Q1, and was exacerbated during February by a major freeze in the Gulf Coast that knocked chemical and refinery facilities offline for weeks. Canadian supply was constrained as well amid employee strikes and plant outages.
Fertilizer producers and sulphuric acid market participants were competing for available sulphur tonnes during Q1. The sustained demand from the two domestic industries constrained supply enough that the US Gulf export market dried up.
Updated to Q2 2021
Supply is expected to remain constant in Asia, as there are no known plans for output cuts in the region.
Demand in Asia will be highly influenced by India’s appetite for DAP fertilizers. The outcome of phosphoric acid settlements will determine whether it is cheaper to import DAP rather than produce it domestically.
Refinery output levels are expected to remain tight in northwest Europe, amid coronavirus lockdown measures on the continent and refinery outages. However, there will be more availability from the Black Sea, as the Volga-Don waterways have open.
Demand in Europe will again be dependent on sulphuric acid and capro market conditions. The impact of the coronavirus on downstream demand will be the deciding factor.
The supply situation for North America is expected to be less constrained during Q2, as refinery run rates and economic factors improve amid higher rates of coronavirus vaccinations. Some western Canada operations will undergo turnarounds in the quarter, which will deplete supply some.
Demand for US sulphur in Q2 may be tempered by significantly higher prices that might make purchases prohibitive for some. Demand from the fertilizer sector will likely remain strong.
We offer the following global phosphates analysis and news coverage to keep you informed of factors and developments affecting prices in the Sulphur marketplace.
Breaking news of latest developments affecting the markets.
Insight and analysis of factors driving prices.
ICIS price assessments are based on information gathered from a wide cross-section of the market, comprising consumers, producers, traders and distributors from more than 250 reporters world-wide. Confirmed deals, verified by both buyer and seller, provide the foundation of our price assessments.
Our in-depth market knowledge drives our specialist focus, as we recognise the importance of individual market dynamics and not a one-size-fits-all approach.
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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 used in fertilizers, normally in the form of ammonium sulphate, where there is a deficiency of sulphur in the soil.
Sulphur is also used to make sulphuric acid from sulphur dioxide. Sulphur dioxide is used to make dyes and as a bleaching agent.
Sulphur has a pale yellow appearance and has a slight odour of rotten egg. It is insoluble in water, but soluble in carbon disulphide.
It 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.
There are two key sources of processing sulphur. The first is the Frasch process, where sulphur is 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.
Another source of sulphur is as a by-product of processing crude oil and natural gas, which contain hydrogen sulphide. It is produced in crush lump, flake and prilled form.
Key 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.
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