Within agriculture, sulphur is consumed as a plant nutrient, but most importantly as an intermediate in the production of phosphoric acid, and therefore for phosphate fertilizers. Almost all sulphur is used in the production of sulphuric acid, which is the most widely used inorganic chemical worldwide, and plays a key role in many industrial and metallurgical processes as well as its uses in agriculture.
Key facts about the sulphur fertlizer market
- Around 68 million tonnes of sulphur is produced annually, of which around 99% is a by-product of oil and gas production and refining. Sulphur is produced in all world regions, but half of all production takes place in the Middle East and North America.
- Around 36 million tonnes of sulphur is traded annually, accounting for 53% of total sulphur production. The Middle East accounts for over 40% of exports. Eastern Asia (predominantly China) and Africa each account for more than 10 million tonnes of imports.
- Almost 60% of all sulphur is used to produce fertilizer, ranging from phosphates, ammonium and potassium sulphates, complex fertilizers and sulphur bentonite. The production of phosphoric acid is the single largest application, accounting for over 45% of sulphur demand.
- Because sulphur is as by-product of the oil and gas industry, pricing can be extremely volatile, ranging from a high of $225 per tonne to a low of $60 over a 25-month period for the delivered price for granular product into China.
- Expansions in oil and gas refining capacity has led to a surfeit of sulphur, at a time where key markets, such as phosphate fertilizers, have been experiencing low growth rates, which have challenged sulphur producers both on price and supply management, raising issues around blocking sulphur in certain regions.