Sulfuric Acid Struggles with Persistent Sulfur Shortage

Sulfur at Sulfuric Acid PlantFebruary 8, 2022

Sulfuric Acid is a very important commodity chemical. America, the top chemical producer in the world, produces more Sulfuric Acid than any other chemical. Interestingly, we have found that the price of Sulfuric Acid also serves as a pretty good economic barometer, often revealing the overall state of a country’s economy.  Sulfuric Acid may be produced “on-purpose”, by burning sulfur, or as a by-product of smelters.

In the past several months, the price of Sulfuric Acid has increased significantly, driven primarily by sizeable increases in the price of elemental sulfur due to shortness of supply. This lack of supply originated during the economic downturn at the beginning of the pandemic. While sulfur does occur in nature, today it is produced as a by-product when refining crude oil. Since demand for fuel was down at the start of the pandemic, refineries turned down their production and processed less crude oil. There was no significant diminishment in demand for sulfur, so the supply became short. Now, sulfur supply is increasing but has not caught up to demand, so there is less burner acid (on-purpose acid) available in the market. The lack in sulfur has resulted in at least one plant shut down.

The other notable factor driving up prices for Sulfuric Acid is increased demand for acid. For instance, demand for copper has increased for use in batteries for electric cars. This new, emerging market is expected to grow; thus increasing overall demand for Sulfuric on a long-term basis. Additionally, Sulfuric Acid is used in lead-acid storage batteries in solar farms, a rapidly growing energy source.

Other factors are affecting the market as well. The high corrosivity of acid means that Sulfuric Acid plants are subject to regular maintenance, as they are taken down and rebuilt regularly. This year, many turnarounds are planned for U.S. plants. Additionally, the past year has seen higher transport costs. In addition to the higher prices in the Sulfuric Acid market, the combination of factors means there is a possibility that Sulfuric could also experience some supply issues in the near future.

With questions about your Sulfuric Acid supply and/or price, reach out to a representative.