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 Q3 2017
By the end of the second quarter, sulphur prices in China, India, the Middle East and Brazil had increased, defying expectations that rising supply would lead to a fall in prices. Availability during the second quarter was lower than expected, fuelled largely by higher demand in China due to lower refinery run rates and empty pipelines. The unexpected price movements during the period resulted in growing uncertainty over what the third quarter would bring.
China's downstream phosphates sector in the third quarter – typically its strongest period – is not expected to be as strong as in previous years because of India's growing reliance on domestic sulphur production. Nevertheless, tight global supply of downstream sulphuric acid has led to increased sulphur burning in China, counterbalancing this. Sulphuric acid is expected to remain tight for the rest of 2017.
The supply of sulphur will largely be determined by long-delayed large scale projects, such as the Kashagan oil fields, and when they start delivering volumes in the market. This is expected to fundamentally lengthen the supply/demand balance.
Updated to Q3 2017
Sulphuric acid supply is globally tight, and with major smelter turnarounds scheduled for the fourth quarter, players expect availability to remain tight for the remainder of 2017 and into the first quarter of 2018. This is especially true in Japan/South Korea where outstanding deliveries dating back as far as last year are compounding the situation.
Most sulphuric acid cargoes out of Japan and South Korea are contracted volumes, while several producers are selling any spot availability inter-regionally because they do not have enough supply to fill deep-sea vessels.
Sulphuric acid buyers are already enquiring after cargoes as far out as September amid the shortages of spot cargoes. Demand in recent years has been growing at a rate of 3-4%, according to market estimates, but supply has broadly kept pace, counterbalancing this.
Nevertheless, some sources argue that the global market has become structurally tighter in 2017 because of project cancellations during the global economic downturn, and this is only beginning to be felt now.
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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.