Sulfur is found naturally as an element in pure state and as sulfate or sulfide minerals. Sulfur crystals are easily differentiated by mineral collectors for their unique and bright colored polyhedron shapes. Earlier sulfur was extracted majorly from salt domes where it occurs in pure form but now this method has been obsolete owing to the new technologies. Today, majority of Sulfur is developed as a byproduct from sulfur containing contaminants from petroleum and natural gas. Commercial use of sulfur is carried out in fertilizers, due to high requirements in plants and in the manufacturing of Sulfuric acid, an important chemical used in the industry. Various other use of elemental sulfur is found in fungicides and insecticides.
In the year 2010, global production of sulfur was at 67.80 million tones and that of pyrites was 6.1 million tones. Countries such as the U.S., Canada, Russia, China, Japan and Saudi Arabia were the major producers of sulfur. Finland and China were the major producers of pyrites. Elemental Sulfur is obtained from the ores by conventional mining method i.e. Frasch method. It is also obtained as a byproduct from processing of sour natural gas, tar sand and sour crude refining. Sulfur recovered from refining processes accounts to 98% of world elemental sulfur production.
In Frasch method, majorly concentric pipes are used. The outer most pipe contains superheated water, that melts the Sulfur and the inner most pipe is completely filled with hot compressed air which is used to create pressure and foam. Sulfur foam is then ejected through the centre pipe. Sulfur produced from Frasch process is 99.5% pure and it further needs no purification. Sulfur production from Frasch method for commercial scale was first carried out in Mexico and Brazil. Elemental sulfur is mined in Poland, Russia and China.
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Sulfur is used to carry vulcanization process for rubber. It reacts directly with methane to generate carbon disulphide which is used to manufacture rayon and cellophane. Sulfur is mostly used as a precursor to many chemicals. Majority of the Sulfur is transformed to Sulfuric acid, which is vital to the world economy. Production and consumption of Sulfuric acid is an indicator of a nation\’s industrial development. The prime use of the Sulfuric acid is in the manufacturing of Phosphatic fertilizer. Various other applications of Sulfuric acid include wastewater processing, mineral extraction and oil refining. Sulfur compounds are utilized in the manufacturing of fungicides, agrichemicals, dyestuffs and detergents. For silver based photography, ammonium thiosulphate and sodium are used as fixing agents. Sulphites obtained from burning Sulfur are used to bleach paper. It is used as preservatives in processed fruit products and dried fruit and as light producing medium in the rare lighting fixtures called as Sulfur lamps. The Sulfur lamps are very efficient lighting system in which light is produced by Sulfur plasma.
Increasing investments and developing economies are the some of the key drivers of the global Sulfur market. However, high cost to extract Sulfur from the mining processes can prove to be fatal for the Sulfur market. Owing to rapid industrialization taking place in Asia Pacific region large number of opportunities are there for Sulfur market.
Some of the key players in the business of Sulfur are Ohio Sulfur Mining Company, Freeport Sulfur Company, Texas Gulf Sulfur Company and Merafe Resources Ltd among others.
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