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 Q4 2017
Continued stock building in China in the coming months to avoid charges from the new environmental tax (see demand section), coupled with Russian barge shipments drawing to a close at the end of October because of winter conditions is expected to keep availability limited in the fourth quarter, despite the end of the peak downstream demand season. Coupled with this, one Russian distributor said that it may be unable to meet OCP’s fourth quarter demands because of weather related waterways closures, which could result in OCP turning to the spot market with additional requirements.
In China, the approach of the implementation of a new environmental tax and end-user shortages is expected to keep demand strong at least through October, according to several market players. China buyers are understood to already be pre-buying for the downstream spring 2018 season to dampen the impact of China’s new environmental tax. Under the new tax regime, which takes effect from 1 January 2018, producers will be charged yuan (CNY) 5/tonne of coal waste, CNY1,000/tonne of hazardous waste, CNY1.2 per unit of atmospheric pollution, and CNY1.4 per water pollution unit.
Russian winter barge restrictions are due to come into effect at the end of October, which will limit supply from the region. In recent weeks, traditional exporters to the Mediterranean have preferred to offer to other locations because of higher profitability, and with Asia and the Middle East expected to remain tight, this is likely to last in to the fourth quarter. In northwest Europe, supply and demand are broadly balanced and expected to remain steady during the quarter.
European demand is expected to remain covered by contractual volumes and the market to remain balanced. In the Mediterranean, buying interest is expected to remain low. According to a distributor, Russia may be unable to meet OCP's requirements for material in the fourth quarter due to winter loading restrictions, which is likely to see it look to the spot market for additional requirements.
Pacific Coast Terminals in Vancouver will be shut for maintenance during the first part of the fourth quarter, so even if supply is available, nothing can load out of that berth for two weeks. The Heartland project, if completed on time, will be online by the end of the year and bring significantly more prilling capacity. In the US, it is understood that at least one refiner brought forward a multi-week turnaround while it was already down due to the hurricanes.
The US may see some shift in demand as Brazil, which typically takes significant tonnage from the US Gulf, began to look to California for tonnes. However, nothing has been heard concluded. After Mosaic declared force majeure on phosphates products following Hurricane Irma, it is unclear what its demand requirements for sulphur will be in the coming months. In Canada, demand from China is not expected to decrease.
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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.