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Sulphur: Market overview
Updated to Q4 2018
Global sulphur availability is low as a result of a sweeter crude mix – which results in lower crude oil production – high freight rates pricing Iran out of the market, multiple European refinery outages and a lack of volumes through the Black Sea due to vessel availability. This is expected to last throughout the fourth quarter
The main end-use market for China sulphur buyers is the India DAP industry. India DAP demand is expected to be firmer than usual in the final part of this year because the increased cost of phosphoric acid has made it cheaper to import DAP and because around 1m tonnes of India DAP requirements are yet to be covered.
Although production problems at the Grossenkneten gas field have been resolved and sulphur plants in the area have restarted, a number of ongoing refinery outages are expected to keep availability in Europe low. With China demand expected to be strong, international relief is not expected to be forthcoming.
Nuova Solmine’s Scarlino sulphur burner, which produces around 600,000 tonnes of sulphuric acid, began its restart process on 21 September following a six-week maintenance. Full-spec product is expected to be available during the week ending 5 October. This is anticipated to increase demand in the Mediterranean.
Updated to Q3 2018
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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Sulphur news & analysis
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.
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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.