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 2021
Supply from the Middle East was constant, with no changes in output. Chinese inventories dropped below 2m tonnes for the first time since October 2019.
Chinese buyers limited their import activity. China imported just under 500,000 tonnes in May. This is the lowest amount imported in May since 2004 and down by 16% from May 2020. In India, COVID-19 restrictions limited import activity. Buyers were well covered for most of Q2.
Liquid sulphur supply remained tight in Q2, amid reduced output from refineries due to the impact of coronavirus. Ongoing factors, such as a move to sweeter crude, plant turnarounds and the continued depletion of output from German natural gas fields, also continued to impact supply. Product from the CIS region re-entered the market, following the re-opening of Black Sea ports in April.
At the start of Q2, buyers were unable to acquire their full requirements and searched for additional tonnes. Towards the end of the quarter demand decreased, amid planned and unplanned end-user shutdowns.
Supply improved during the quarter as refinery utilisation rates returned to pre-pandemic levels. US sulphur production at the beginning of Q2 was at its highest level since July 2020, as estimated by the US Geological Survey (USGS).
Demand remained strong during Q2, as downstream markets began to recover from both the major February freeze and the pandemic. Additionally, tight sulphuric acid supply spurred stronger sulphur demand, from sulphur-burning producers.
Updated to Q3 2021
Supply is expected to tighten in the Middle East, as Arab Gulf cargoes are expected to fulfil demand that would normally be fulfilled by producers in Kazakhstan and Russia.
Demand in Asia will be highly influenced by China’s appetite for sulphur. Chinese inventories are seen dropping, forcing buyers to re-enter the import market for bigger volumes. The downstream phosphates sector remains firm, which is boosting sentiment for feedstock sulphur in China and India.
Refinery output is expected to remain tight in northwest Europe. In Russia, Gazprom is understood to be planning to export 300,000-400,000 tonnes in Q3, down from 800,000 in the same period in 2020.
Demand should pick up, as caprolactam producers re-enter the market after planned and unplanned shutdowns. However, others are expected to enter turnarounds during Q3.
Sulphur supply is expected to improve during Q3, if refinery utilisation rates remain at their pre-pandemic levels, which were reached early in Q3.
Demand should remain strong during Q3, from essentially all-consuming sectors – fertilizer markets, sulphuric acid producers and the industrial sector.
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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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.
Over 25 years of reporting on key chemicals markets, including Sulphur, has brought global recognition of our methodology as being unbiased, authoritative and rigorous in preserving our editorial integrity. Our global network of reporters in Houston, London, Singapore, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Mumbai, Perth and Moscow ensures unrivalled coverage of established and emerging markets.
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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