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FAQ

What is sulphur?
Where does sulphur come from?
Are there different forms of sulphur?
Where is sulphur produced?
Is sulphur traded internationally?
How and where is sulphuric acid produced?
Is sulphuric acid traded internationally?
What is sulphur used for?
Why do plants need sulphur?
How much sulphur do plants need?
Why is sulphur deficiency becoming severe in agricultural production in recent years?
What is the role of sulphur fertilizer in crop production?
What sulphur fertilizers are available?
What is sulphur asphalt (bitumen)?
What is sulphur concrete?
Do you have any information on sulphur or sulphur product prices?

Last Updated: 2008




What is sulphur?
Sulphur is a non-metallic chemical element and is identified by the letter S. Sulphur is a valuable commodity and integral component of the world economy. It is used to manufacture numerous products including fertilizers, chemicals, paints, rubber products, medicines, fibers, sugar, detergents, plastics, paper and many other products. Sulphur also is a vital nutrient for crops, animals, and people. For more detailed information about sulphur use, please see Sulphur Outlook and Publications.



Where does sulphur come from?
Sulphur occurs naturally in the environment and is the thirteenth most abundant element in the earth's crust. It can be mined in its elemental form, although this method has declined over the last decade to less than 2% of world production. Most elemental sulphur is obtained as a co-product recovered from oil and gas production.



Are there different forms of sulphur?
Not really. Sulphur is an element. Sulphur that is mined or recovered from oil and gas production is known as elemental sulphur, or brimstone. Sulphur can be combined with other elements to form various compounds. Sulphur compounds, such as sulphuric acid, also are produced as a by-product of ferrous and non-ferrous metal smelting. Other compounds, such as sulphur dioxide, may be emitted from petroleum products used in cars and coal generating electricity. Plants absorb sulphur from the soil as sulphate.



Where is sulphur produced?
Elemental sulphur is produced the world over. The largest production occurs where sour gas and oil is processed and refined: United State, Canada, the Former Soviet Union, and West Asia. For more detailed information about sulphur production and producers in different regions and countries worldwide, please see TSI's publication Sulphur Outlook.



Is sulphur traded internationally?
Yes. Over half of the elemental sulphur production is traded internationally. China is the world's largest importer, followed by Morocco and the United States. Canada is the largest exporter, followed by Russia and Saudi Arabia. For more detailed information about sulphur trade in different regions and countries worldwide, please see TSI's publication Sulphur Outlook.



How and where is sulphuric acid produced?
Well over half of the global sulphuric acid production comes from burning elemental sulphur in special equipment at points of consumption. Most of the remainder is recovered at non-ferrous metals smelters and pyrites mines. East Asia, led by China, is the largest overall acid producer, stemming largely from its rapid economic growth. It is followed by North America, Africa, and Latin America.



Is sulphuric acid traded internationally?
Yes. Practically all traded acid is from metals smelters. Western Europe is the largest acid trading region, followed by East Asia and North America. For more detailed information about sulphuric acid trade, please see TSI's publication Sulphur Outlook.



What is sulphur used for?
Sulphur is the primary source in the production of sulphuric acid, the world's most widely used chemical. Sulphuric acid is an essential intermediate in many processes in the chemical and manufacturing industries. Sulphuric acid also is used by the fertilizer industry to manufacture primarily phosphates, nitrogen, potassium, and sulphate fertilizers. It is also used in manufacturing other products, including non-ferrous metals, pigments, fibers, hydrofluoric acid, carbon disulphide, pharmaceuticals, agricultural pesticides, personal care products, cosmetics, synthetic rubber vulcanization, water treatment, and steel pickling.



Why do plants need sulphur?
Following nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, sulphur is an essential plant nutrient. It contributes to an increase in crop yields in three different ways: 1) it provides a direct nutritive value; 2) it provides indirect nutritive value as soil amendments, especially for calcareous and saline alkali soils; and 3) it improves the use efficiency of other essential plant nutrients, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus. Sulphur is necessary for plant growth and nutrition.



How much sulphur do plants need?
Most crops remove 15 to 30 kg for sulphur per hectare (S/ha). Oil crops, legumes, forages, and some vegetables require more sulphur than phosphorus for optimal yield and quality. Plants contain as much sulphur as phosphorus, with an average content of approximately 0.25%. Usual recommendations for correcting deficiency are 15 to 30 kg S/ha for cereal crops and silage grass; and 25 to 50 kg S/ha for oil crops, legume, sugarcane, and some vegetable crops. For more detailed information about sulphur demand for specific crops and regions, please see The Sulphur Institute's Publications.



Why is sulphur deficiency becoming severe in agricultural production in recent years?
Factors contributing to increasing sulphur deficiencies include:
  1. More sulphur is removed from the soil as a result of an increase in agricultural production by increasing fertilizer use, intensifying cropping systems, promoting high-yield crop varieties, and improving irrigation.
  2. Less sulphur is added to the soil due to the increasing proportions of high-analysis, sulphur-free fertilizers, such as urea, diammonium phosphate (DAP), and potassium chloride; decreasing use of traditional organic manures and sulphur-containing fertilizers, such as single superphosphate and ammonium sulphate, and sulphur-containing pesticides.
  3. Lower sulphur dioxide emissions are reducing atmospheric availability, one of the important historical sources of sulphur for agriculture around industrial areas. More stringent environmental regulations in Western Europe, North America and increasingly in developing countries have reduced atmospheric sulphur deposition, which leads to sulphur deficiency in agriculture.


What is the role of sulphur fertilizer in crop production?
Both the yield and quality of crops grown on sulphur-deficient soils are reduced unless sulphur is included in the fertilizer treatment. Sulphur fertilizer can increase crop yields and quality and result in significant economic returns to producers. Sulphur fertilization also improves overall fertilizer efficiency.



What sulphur fertilizers are available?
Most sulphur-containing fertilizer materials generally can be divided into two groups: 1) fertilizers containing sulphate, and 2) fertilizers containing elemental sulphur. Sulphate-containing fertilizers provide most of the fertilizer sulphur applied to soils. The most significant and popular sources are ammonium sulphate, single superphosphate (SSP), potassium sulphate, potassium magnesium sulphate, and gypsum. These materials have the advantages of supplying sulphur primarily as a component of multi-nutrient fertilizers in a sulphate form that is immediately available for plant uptake. Elemental sulphur-containing fertilizers are the most concentrated sulphur carriers. However, elemental sulphur has to be oxidized into sulphate form before plant products, such as granular sulphur-bentonite, have improved the effectiveness of elemental sulphur by providing elemental sulphur in an acceptable physical form so that it can be used for direct application and bulk blending with little dust and be converted more readily to sulphate form in the soil. Most manufacturers offer specially formulated sulphur containing nitrogen or nitrogen phosphorus potassium (NPK) fertilizers, such as urea-sulphur, elemental sulphur, modified/enriched monoammonium phosphate (MAP)/diammonium phosphate (DAP)/NPK fertilizers.



What is sulphur asphalt (bitumen)?
Sulphur asphalt (SA), sometimes referred to as sulphur bitumen or sulphur extended asphalt (SEA), is a viable alternative for asphalt road binder, a process in which sulphur is used to extend asphalt materials as a means of energy conservation by minimizing asphalt demand. Combined with dried and heated stones and sand, either asphalt or SA can be used to make "hot mix" paving materials and build road. For more detailed information about sulphur asphalt and its use as construction materials worldwide, please see TSI's Publications.



What is sulphur concrete?
Sulphur concrete is a relatively new corrosion-resistant material that contains stones, sand, mineral filter, and sulphur polymer cement (chemically modified sulphur) binder. Sulphur concrete is mixed and placed at an elevated temperature. It rapidly gains high strength over a few hours of cooling and provides an economic, long-term performance in many harsh environments.



Do you have any information on sulphur or sulphur product prices?
The Sulphur Institute does not follow sulphur or any other sulphur product prices or publish a list of prices. Because sulphur and sulphur products are commodities, their price is determined by the laws of supply and demand.