Chemical profile: Sodium sulfite

2008/03/10

                   

DEMAND

2006: 98,000 short tons (88,900 tonnes) 2007: 92,000 tons 2011: 100,000 tons, projected. Demand equals production plus imports (2006 and 2007: 28,000 tons/year) less exports (2006: 31,000 tons 2007: 29,000 tons.). Trade data include all sodium sulfites, except sodium thiosulfate. Sources: ICIS Chemical Business USITC

GROWTH

Historical (2002-2007): 2.1%/year. Future: 1.8%/year through 2011. Source: ICIS Chemical Business

PRICE

Historical (2002-2007): High, $48.10/cwt ($48.10/112lb, $48.10/50.8kg), anhydrous, technical, 95-100% bags, landed duty-paid value low, $32.30/cwt, same basis. Current: $34.30-37.80/cwt, same basis. Source: USITC

USES

Pulp and paper, 54% water treatment, 21% photography, 10% oil recovery, 5% miscellaneous, including textile bleaching, food preservatives, chemical intermediates and ore flotation, 10%. Source: ICIS Chemical Business

MARKET PERSPECTIVE

Most sodium sulfite, 54%, is consumed in the pulp and paper industry for semichemical and acid sulfite pulping. Coming out of the 2001-2002 recession, the industry rebounded in the middle of the decade, but declined by more than 6% from 2005 to 2006. Last year continued the decline for sulfite pulping, when production dropped by another 2%. Semichemical pulping also includes a relatively new technology, known as chemi-thermomechanical pulping (CTMP). This is expected to provide additional growth for the sector and sodium sulfite eventually, as the technology moves from Europe, where it is already commercial, to North America.

More stringent requirements for dechlorination in municipal and industrial wastewater treatment have given a lift to sulfur chemicals, including sodium sulfite. Other growth areas for sodium sulfite make use of its oxygen scavenging ability where oxygen removal is desired - in boiler water treatment, oil well drilling muds and oil well flooding.

Though eliminated from use on salad bars, sodium sulfite remains a prominent antioxidant and preservative in many prepared foods and wine.

OUTLOOK

Pulping applications for sodium sulfite account for more than half of the chemical's demand and are regarded as the most likely segments for future growth. But sulfite pulping activity is correlated with economic growth. It is too soon to call the current economic climate recessionary, but if a recession comes, sulfite consumption will be hurt, largely by the response of sulfite semichemical pulp production.

Production capacity for sodium sulfite is well in excess of market requirements. Demand growth through 2011 is forecast at 1.8%/year.


US SODIUM SULFITE CAPACITY, THOUSANDS OF SHORT TONS/YEAR

Company Location Capacity
Calabrian Port Neches, Texas 100
INDSPEC Chemical Petrolia, Pennsylvania 70
Olympic Chemical Tacoma, Washington 7
Solvay Chemicals Green River, Wyoming 55
Southern Ionics Baton Rouge, Louisiana Pasadena, Texas Tuscaloosa, Alabama 75
TOTAL 307

SOURCE: ICIS CHEMICAL BUSINESS

*Thousands of short tons/year of sodium sulfite, 100% Na2SO3 basis. Excludes material produced and consumed captively by paper mills. Most commercial production is from sulfur dioxide and sodium carbonate or caustic soda. Some producers have the capability to switch sulfite production to sodium bisulfite or metabisulfite, depending on demand and feedstock availability.

Texas-based Calabrian and global chemical firm Solvay both produce anhydrous sodium sulfite, crystallizing the material from solution, then drying it. INDSPEC Chemical, a wholly owned subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, produces anhydrous sodium sulfite as a by-product of resorcinol production.

In July 2005, Esseco USA, a subsidiary of Italy-based Esseco, announced it would build a new plant in the US with a combined capacity of 60,000 tons/year of sodium sulfite, sodium metabisulfite, and sodium bisulfite solutions. Start-up was projected for 2007, but the facility was never built.

Profile last published January 31, 2005