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 Q1 2019
Asia spot sulphur supply has generally been tight in the first quarter because of a shift to a sweeter crude mix, lower volumes out of Saudi Arabia because of increased domestic consumption, and ADNOC contracting an increased portion of its sulphur supply to OCP in Morocco. A seasonal demand lull from China and India limited the supply tightness in the Arab Gulf. A few refinery outages in India also curbed supply there.
Demand was limited by the Lunar New Year holiday in China in early February, as well as ample supply of the end us phosphate fertilizer diammonium phosphate (DAP). As a result, the Arab Gulf’s major sulphur producers dropped their monthly sulphur contract prices by around $19/tonne month on month in February. The monthly posted prices stabilised in March.
European supply recovered to a balanced level, following tightness at the end of Q4 caused by refinery outages and problems at the Grossenkneten gas field. Q1 contract settled at a rollover, amid weak global prices and a generally balanced market. Weather-related logistical issues persisted in the Black sea limiting cargos from the region.
Demand was stable following first quarter contract settlements in mid-January. Market participants were waiting for Q2 contract negotiations at the end of March and beginning of April. Solid sulphur availability was good and compensated for the lack of molten product from Sannazzaro’s Eni Refinery (north of Italy), which went into maintenance in February and will remain such until April.
In both the US and Canada, sulphur supply was snug in the first quarter. US refineries underwent annual turnarounds, and one major sulphur buyer purchased a significant amount of molten product that was available. In Canada, port inventories remained balanced-to-low, with little activity due to China remaining on the market sidelines for most of the quarter.
Demand in Q1 was soft. This was true especially in Canada, since China did not come back to the market directly after its Lunar New Year as anticipated. Much of the US and Canada markets remained in a wait-and-see pattern, with little product exported, though California maintained regular shipments to regions such as Mexico during the quarter.
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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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