The Sulphur markets are covered by ICIS weekly in China and on a global basis. Our market intelligence is gathered by our network of locally based reporters. The China report covers spot domestic prices, while the global report has price assessments for contract prices in Tampa and North Africa, spot prices in the Middle East and China and spot/contract hybrid prices in Vancouver.
Unbiased and independent commentary includes information on shipping activity, demand and supply, regional updates and any other influencing factors at the time. There is also coverage within the monthly Sulphur & Sulphuric Acid Outlook report. You can use this reliable information to keep up-to-date on market movements and make informed business decisions.
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Sulphur: Market overview
Updated to Q3 2018
Supply from the Middle East is expected to remain low as long as technical limitations prevent a switch to a more sour crude mix, and until material begins to flow again from the Black Sea. How long Black Sea tightness will remain is uncertain. Logistical problems have prevented significant volumes leaving Russia during the second quarter because of a lack of available vessels. Gazprom and Austrofin continue to seek solutions to logistical disruption, but have yet to find any.
China is expected to return to the market, at least at the start of the third quarter, on the back of strong downstream phosphates demand. Nevertheless, inventory levels at the end of the second quarter were high, reaching a 17-month peak on 21 June. This may limit the extent of any demand rebound. Coupled with this, OCP's new sulphur burner as part of its J4 expansion is expected to reach full volumes during the second half (of the quarter?), which could see increased sulphur demand from the phosphates major if sulphuric acid price levels remain economically favourable to sulphur burning. Sulphuric acid prices have been broadly increasing through 2018 on global supply shortages. Sulphuric acid spot availability is expected to remain limited throughout 2018.
Ongoing problems at the Grossenkneten gas fields continue to disrupt production at plants in the vicinity. Operating rates at the affected units are currently understood to be at around 50% with a return to full capacity by the end of July. The European market is expected to remain tight until at least then, although some sources said that current demand levels could see low availability extend through much of the second half of the year. Although third quarter negotiations are yet to begin, the low availability is adding upward pressure, and sources on both sides of the market have previously said that they expect Q3 contract prices to rise as a result. In Russia, the FIFA World Cup is disrupting the rail network in the country. Coupled with this, logistic difficulties with obtaining ships remain.
Local tightness is expected to continue to see the Mediterranean rely on import product during the start of the quarter. Meanwhile, OCP's new sulphur burner - which is in the start-up phase - could also see additional demand for Europe product. Several sources have also said that the summer shutdown period in the downstream petrochemical chain would be shorter than usual this year, increasing demand during the typically slow summer months.
The US should see stronger sulphur production during the third quarter after a very tight second quarter, since turnaround season is solidly completed and the refineries will be running hard for their peak summer season. Canada may see production struggle depending on how long Syncrude stays down after a lightning strike that hit at the end of the second quarter.
Sulphur demand in Canada will likely increase during the third quarter as India’s phosphates markets kick into peak season. China consumers of sulphur will have to come off of the sidelines and negotiate deals out of Vancouver. US demand will likely remain strong and steady as burners continue running hard domestically.
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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 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.