The global sulphuric acid 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 Q4 2020
Asian sulphuric acid availability was very tight in Q4, as contract tonnes were fixed and demand firmed. This was a reversal of the great length seen in spot availability towards the end of 2019.
Sulphuric acid demand firmed for Asian tonnes in Q4 2020, as the global sulphuric acid market recovered from the lows of Q1 and Q2. Demand strengthened as the lack of ready spot availability led buyers to scramble in search of tonnes.
European sulphuric acid supply tightened in Q4, primarily on a lack of availability in feedstock liquid sulphur. Sulphur burners’ run rates were heavily restricted by the shortage throughout the quarter that subsequently pressured smelter acid suppliers and led to higher prices for both types of 98% acid.
European sulphuric acid demand increased in Q4 2020, as supplies of burner acid tightened on a lack of feedstock sulphur. As buyers that usually relied on burner acid supplies turned to the market to locate a new source of acid, smelters and distributors alike were quickly overwhelmed by demand – including some attempts at forward-buying, as downstream buyers looked to fix tonnes early.
The tight supply situation in the US begun to ease during Q4 with the restart of Kennecott’s smelter in Utah in late October. The 1m tonne/year facility had been offline for much of the year. On the other hand, sulphur output remained low at refineries, which further constrained supply and kept the supply situation from coming further into balance.
Demand softened during the quarter. There were a few enquiries for spot purchases of tonnes heard, but those disappeared as global prices increased. The next significant import demand is not expected until Q2.
Updated to Q1 2021
Asian spot acid availability will continue to decline in Q1, as large volumes have already been fixed on contract and demand is firming fast. A lack of feedstock liquid sulphur is restricting burner acid availability and further tightening spot supplies.
After a poor performance throughout most of 2020, demand for spot acid tonnes from Asia will continue to firm in Q1 2021. Downstream chemical and fertilizer producers’ demand for tonnes will persist as these key industries recover from coronavirus-related disruption.
It is likely sulphuric acid supplies will continue to tighten in Q1 2021, as the lack of burners’ feedstock liquid sulphur is set to continue. In turn, this will lead to greater competition for smelter acid producers’ tonnes and a general increase in tight spot acid availability.
European sulphuric acid demand will increase in Q1 2021, amid an ongoing tightness in spot availability and a lack of feedstock sulphur at burners. Q1 is also typically a time for restocking at downstream fertilizer producers, who will find themselves in competition with chemical plants for what acid is available.
Sulphuric acid is expected to be more readily available during Q1, as Kennecott’s major smelter has now been running for more than two months after being offline for much of 2020. However, sulphur production will likely remain low in the US, making it difficult for burners to source feedstock supply for acid production.
Depleted demand is expected during Q1, on a combination of the typical low season and better domestic supply in the country than in previous quarters.
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Sulphuric acid is a strong mineral acid with a wide range of uses in industry. Pure sulphuric acid is a colourless, viscous liquid that can cause severe burns and serious eye and skin damage, and is therefore classified as corrosive or hazardous.
A key use of sulphuric acid is for the production of fertilizers. Other uses include the production of carbon disulphide, sulphur dioxide and phosphorous pentasulphide; pulp and paper; and rubber vulcanising. Sulphuric acid can also be used in its diluted form as battery acid for the automotive sector.
Sulphuric acid is colourless in appearance and of an oily liquid consistency. It is both corrosive and toxic and has the ability to cause serious burns. In addition, it is harmful through inhalation, ingestion and through skin contact.