Petroleum industries are gaining high momentum in their sales revenue with the increasing demand for sulphur across various industry segments. Today, 97% of the sulphur is recovered as a by-product of oil and gas industry followed by coal gasification (2%) and 1% from mined sulphur. Sulphur recovery is the process of harnessing sulphur from hydrogen sulphide (H2S). Sulphur constitutes 3% of earth’s total mass and is the 16th most abundant element in the world. Its end use application is seen in fertilisers, rubber, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical industries.
Sulphur has both, merits as well as demerits. It needs to be removed during the coal gasification and extraction process so as to avoid catalyst poisoning and prevent fouling of the downstream component. Chemical industries constantly engage in technical innovation in order to offer an efficient approach for removing sulphur from this process and using it for various other industry verticals ranging from agricultural sectors to cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries.
Companies these days are focusing on extracting sulphur in most feasible way so as to minimise the operational cost and enhance the revenue generation. Claus process, tail gas, direct oxidation, acid gas enrichment, oxygen enrichment, cold bed adsorption and Frasch methods are the techniques most employed by industries. Of all these methods, Claus and CBA (Cold Bed Adsorption) are the most commonly used in extraction of sulphur. The reason behind its popularity is the increasing market share of oil and gas production.
Canada is the largest exporter of sulphur in the world, while China is the largest market for sulphur. Other potential market sites for sulphur are India, U.S., Morocco and Brazil. The current scenario reveals that sulphur production is dependent on China’s economy. Since 1990, it has been importing sulphur to meet its various industry verticals need. However, the market seems to be in the doldrums because of the large gap between demand and supply. With major oil and gas fields operating in Canada, Russia, and MEA, the market is set to witness large production of sulphur which will surpass the demand for it. The Turkmenistan gas project alone is set to produce 2.4 million tonnes of sulphur. The decline in the demand for sulphur foretells a gloomy prospect for the industries producing sulphur. However, this downward trend will be a short term one and is expected to show improvement with sulphur’s increasing use in rubber and agriculture sectors.
It is predicted that the world population will increase to 8.3 billion by 2030 from 6.9 billion in 2010. This will lead to increase in food demand by 50%. With limited agricultural land, soil will need high amount of micro and macro nutrients to meet the good demand in coming years. Sulphur is one of the most important nutrient for plants. Deficiency in sulphur can result in reduced yields. The global agriculture market, including countries such as China, India, and U.S., will need sulphur to meet their crop production. High demand of sulphur in crop production offers good market scope for chemical industries operating in sulphur recovery technologies.
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The rubber industry is also a potential end use market for sulphur-producing regions. Sulphur offers durability to natural rubbers. On account of the surge in demand for rubbers in the automotive industry, Asia followed by Europe and North America have become lucrative markets for business enterprises operating in sulphur recovery technologies. Asia alone consumes 17,191 metric tonnes of rubber. China, Japan, and India are the major automotive hubs, and hold the potential to generate high returns on investment for chemical industries. Germany is the largest market for sulphur in Europe with a majority of the automotive parts being manufactured there. With tremendous growth potential in the fertiliser, automation and mining sectors, the sulphur recovery technology market looks optimistic. APAC will see the highest CAGR growth in 2014–2020 followed by MENA and the North American region.