What is sulfur?

Sulfur is a non-metallic chemical element and is identified by the letter S. Sulfur is a precious commodity and necessary component of the world economy. It is used to produce a variety of goods that include fertilizers, chemicals, paints, rubber products, medicines, fibers, sugar, detergents, plastics, paper, and more. Sulfur also is an important nutrient for crops, animals, and people.

Where does sulfur come from?

Sulfur is found naturally in the environment and is the thirteenth most abundant element in the earth’s crust. It is mined in its elemental form, although this method has diminished over the last decade to less than 2% of world production. Almost all of elemental sulfur is obtained as a co-product recovered from oil and gas production.

Are there different forms of sulfur?

No. Sulfur is an element. Sulfur that is mined or recovered from oil and gas production is known as elemental sulfur or brimstone. Sulfur can be conjoined with various other elements to form different compounds. Sulfur compounds, like sulfuric acid, are produced as a by-product of ferrous and non-ferrous metal smelting. Other compounds, such as sulfur dioxide, are emitted from petroleum products used in cars and coal generating electricity. Plants absorb sulfur from the soil as sulfate.

Where is sulfur produced?

Elemental sulfur is produced all over the world. The biggest production occurs where sour gas and oil is processed and refined: the United States, Canada, Russia, and West Asia.

Is sulfur traded internationally?

Yes, more than half of all elemental sulfur produced 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.

How and where is sulfuric acid produced?

More than half of all global sulfuric acid production develops from burning elemental sulfur in special facilities at points of consumption. Almost all the remainder is collected 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 sulfuric acid traded internationally?

Yes. Almost all traded acid is from metals smelters. Western Europe is the largest acid trading region, followed by East Asia and North America.

What is sulfur used for?

Sulfur is the main source of creation of sulfuric acid, the world’s leading chemical. Sulfuric acid is an essential component in many processes in the chemical and industrial industries. Sulfuric acid is also used in the fertilizer industry to create primarily phosphates, nitrogen, potassium, and sulfate fertilizers. It is also used in producing other commodities, including non-ferrous metals, pigments, fibers, hydrofluoric acid, carbon disulfide, ¬†harmaceuticals, agricultural pesticides, personal care products, cosmetics, synthetic rubber vulcanization, water treatment, and steel pickling.

Why do plants need sulfur?

Following nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, sulfur is an essential plant nutrient. It contributes to an improvement in crop returns in a few different ways: 1) it provides a direct nutritive value; 2) it gives indirect nutritive value as soil supplements, particularly for calcareous and saline-alkali soils; and 3) it increases the performance of other necessary plant nutrients, specifically nitrogen and phosphorus. Sulfur is essential for plant maturity and nutrition.

How much sulfur do plants need?

Most crops remove 15 to 30 kg for sulfur per hectare (S/ha). Oil crops, legumes, forages, and some vegetables require more sulfur than phosphorus for optimal yield and quality. Plants hold as much sulfur as phosphorus, with an average content of approximately 0.25%. Usual suggestions 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 sulfur demand for specific crops and regions, please see The Sulphur Institute’s Publications.

Why is sulfur deficiency becoming severe in agricultural production in recent years?

Factors helpful to increasing sulfur deficiencies comprise of:

  • More sulfur is removed from the soil as a result of an increase in agricultural creation by expanding fertilizer use, intensifying cropping systems, promoting high-yield crop varieties, and improving irrigation.
  • Less sulfur is added to the soil due to the increasing proportions of high-analysis, sulfur-free fertilizers, such as urea, diammonium phosphate (DAP), and potassium chloride; decreasing use of traditional organic manures and sulfur-containing fertilizers, such as single superphosphate and ammonium sulfate, and sulfur containing pesticides.

Lower sulfur dioxide emissions are reducing atmospheric availability, one of the important historical sources of sulfur for agriculture around industrial areas. More stringent environmental regulations in Western Europe, North America and increasingly in developing countries have reduced atmospheric sulfur deposition, which leads to the sulfur deficiency in agriculture.

What is the role of sulfur fertilizer in crop production?

Both the return and condition of crops grown on sulfur-deficient soils are degraded unless sulfur is introduced in the fertilizer treatment. Sulfur fertilizer can improve crop yields and property and produce significant economic returns to farmers. Sulfur fertilization also increases overall fertilizer performance.

What sulfur fertilizers are available?

Most sulfur-containing fertilizer materials usually can be separated into two groups: 1) fertilizers comprising of sulfate, and 2) fertilizers including elemental sulfur. Sulfate-containing fertilizers provide most of the fertilizer sulfur applied to soils. The most important and common sources are ammonium sulfate, single superphosphate (SSP), potassium sulfate, potassium magnesium sulfate, and gypsum. These substances have the benefits of providing sulfur primarily as an element of multi-nutrient fertilizers in a sulfate form that is directly available for plant intake. Elemental sulfur-containing composts are the most intense sulfur carriers. However, elemental sulfur has to be oxidized into sulfate form before plant products, such as granular sulfur-bentonite, have improved the effectiveness of elemental sulfur by providing elemental sulfur in an acceptable physical form so that it can be used for immediate application and bulk mixing with little dust and be transformed more readily to sulfate form in the soil. Many manufacturers supply specially created sulfur-containing nitrogen or nitrogen phosphorus potassium (NPK) fertilizers, such as urea-sulfur, elemental sulfur, modified/enriched mono ammonium phosphate (MAP)/diammonium phosphate (DAP)/NPK fertilizers.

What is sulfur asphalt (bitumen)?

Sulfur asphalt (SA), also referred to as sulfur bitumen or sulfur extended asphalt (SEA), is a functional option for asphalt road binder, a process in which sulfur is used to extend asphalt supplies as a means of energy economy by decreasing asphalt demand. Coupled with dried and heated gravel and sand, either asphalt or SA can be used to make “hot mix” paving materials and construct roads. For more detailed information about sulfur asphalt and its use as construction materials worldwide, please see TSI’s Publications.

What is sulfur concrete?

Sulfur concrete is a comparatively new corrosion-resistant element that comprises of stones, sand, mineral filter, and sulfur polymer cement (chemically modified sulfur) binder. Sulfur concrete is created and held at an elevated temperature. It rapidly gains intense strength after a few hours of cooling and produces a financially conscientious, long-term performance in many harsh conditions.

Do you have any information on sulfur or sulfur product prices?

Because sulfur and sulfur products are commodities, their price is determined by the laws of supply and demand.