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.
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Updated to Q2 2019
There was ample supply of sulphur in India, as buying from the end use phosphates fertilizer market was virtually non-existent. Geopolitical issues in Iran and the Arab Gulf led to some uncertainty about availability and possible changes in trade routes.
Demand in Asia did not recover, due to ample supply of the end use phosphate fertilizer diammonium phosphate (DAP) in India. As a result, there was limited demand for sulphur from China, the largest importer of sulphur, to produce DAP. The industry looked to the outcome of the Indian elections in May for clarity on buying decisions.
In Europe, there was tightness in liquid sulphur due to planned and unplanned outages at various refineries. Also, contributing to the tightness was the availability of more sweet than sour crude. Weather-related logistical issues ended in the Black Sea, allowing cargoes out of the region.
Demand was stable following second-quarter contract settlements in mid-April. Solid sulphur availability was good and compensated for the lack of molten product from Eni’s Sannazzaro refinery in northern Italy, which went into maintenance in February and restarted in mid-May.
US sulphur supply during the second quarter was mixed. A combination of lower refinery output during maintenance season and Mosaic buying large amounts of the available molten sulphur early in the quarter strained supply initially, leaving little to be prilled and sent offshore. End-May, Martin Midstream’s Beaumont shiploader was damaged and went offline until January 2020, straining the capacity of solid sulphur able to be loaded onto vessels.
A lull in the global sulphur market, led by a quiet Chinese market, caused decreased activity and demand for US product. Mosaic restarted one of its idled phosphate mines in Brazil. The idling had originally caused the major buyer to cancel three sulphur vessels from its lineup, though it was unclear how many of these vessels would have originated from the US. No out-of-the-ordinary demand was seen for Canadian product either, also due to a subdued Chinese market.
We offer the following global phosphates analysis and news coverage to keep you informed of factors and developments affecting prices in the Sulphur marketplace.
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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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