The Outlook Sulphur and Sulphuric Acid monthly report forms part of the comprehensive and trustworthy coverage of the Fertilizer markets. The unbiased news and analysis includes sections on market overview, key drivers, regional updates, supply and demand outlooks as well as forecasts and any other factors driving prices. If you are involved with these or related markets, this independent and essential business tool can help you to make crucial strategic decisions. Integer Research produces the Outlook reports on behalf of ICIS.
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The Outlook Sulphur and Sulphuric Acid: 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.
Updated to Q4 2018
Sulphuric acid spot supply is expected to remain tight until at least the second half of 2019 – particularly in Asia. The majority of global suppliers are sold out of spot material until the end of the year. This has attracted new market entrants in China and India.
With Chile having not bought large volumes of material in the first half of 2018 and stockpiling amid concerns of the impact of environmental regulation, demand from the region is increasing. Brazil is entering its peak season. India demand remains strong because of the Tuticorin closure.
European spot supply is expected to remain tight until the second half of 2019. Producers have been focusing on domestic markets in 2018. With spot prices firmer than contracts, some producers have begun mulling limiting their contract exposure in 2019. The majority of European producers are sold out of spot material until the end of the year.
Seasonal import patterns in Brazil and Morocco typically see the majority of volumes brought in during the second half. Enquiries from Brazil have been intensifying in recent weeks, suggesting that 2018 will follow a similar pattern. With Chile and India demand unseasonably strong – Europe buying interest is expected to firm.
Updated to Q3 2018
It is unclear where overall sulphuric acid supply will be over the course of the third quarter. On one hand, Unity Envirotech’s ammonium sulphate plant will continue to ramp up its consumption of sulphuric acid. On the other hand, several smelters and burners have come out of turnaround recently, which will alleviate some supply tension.
US sulphuric acid demand is expected to stay steady and strong during the third quarter as the US remains in a deficit of the product. The Henry, Illinois ammonium sulphate plant by Unity Envirotech will continue to ramp up and consume more tonnes as time goes by.
News & analysis
The Outlook Sulphur and Sulphuric Acid news & analysis
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The Outlook Methodology
About The Outlook Sulphur and Sulphuric Acid
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.
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.