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Sulphur matters on the Bay

Summary

The world's leading conference on the production and supply of sulphur all forms took its millennial gathering to California at the end of October. Chris Cunningham considers highlights of the discussion in San Francisco on the supply-demand balance. On p23 Bill Lavers reviews key moments from the technical proceedings.

Abstract

Sulphur 2000 could hardly have arrived in San Francisco at a more pivotal moment in the story of the industry served by our annual conference series. In the conference’s host country, the world’s biggest sulphur-producing region, the closure of the last Frasch mine has left a gap in brimstone supplies that awaits resolution. The logistics complex left behind by the former Freeport Sulphur operation had yet to find a new owner, if one was to be found, whilst new relationships between suppliers and buyers along the US Gulf Coast were only just emerging.

Plans to import solid sulphur in Tampa, a development with major implications for the price of US sulphur relative to the rest of the world, were approaching a watershed of permits and approvals. And there were major prospects on the horizon to supply this and other demand markets, with early production due from Venezuela’s and Mexico’s heavy oil projects. Meanwhile, plans for the disbursement of giant stocks of sulphur in the former Soviet Union were eagerly awaited.

All of this, naturally, was a key element in the attraction of 320 delegates from around 30 nations who converged on the city’s St Francis Hotel to consider the market’s pros­pects for the year ahead and to absorb a unique programme covering new developments in the production and handling of sulphur all forms.

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Down to the details

Summary

A thumbnail sketch of the conference proceedings is provided here.

Abstract

Against the backdrop – elaborated by early speakers – of ample supplies of sulphur at moderate prices for the foreseeable future, novel uses for sulphur and sulphur-derived products was a theme that most of the speakers picked up on in the afternoon session of the first conference day (Monday). Although Jim Hyne did not mention “new uses” for sulphur in his oral presentation (on the pros­pects for sulphur production in conjunction with the exploitation of Orinoco heavy crude in Venezuela), his printed paper outlined his views on the large–scale potential for sulphur usage in concrete and asphalt. He also mentioned the interesting electron transfer properties of sulphur, which will no doubt feature in future conference papers with a new use focus.

Late in the afternoon on Monday, the session continued with two further papers on the new use theme. G Vaghela of Gujarat State Fertilizers & Chemicals Ltd spoke about the use of phosphoric acid gypsum and sulphur sludge (filtercake from sulphur mel­ters) as soil conditioners. Clearly, this is not so much a serious use of new brim­stone as it is a disposal option for industrial waste disposal. Interestingly, in a later conference session on sulphuric acid, another Indian speaker indicated that one of the best uses in India for melter filter cake was in the production of firecackers, to great amusement from the audience.

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Heavy going for Mexico's refineries

Summary

Mexico's efforts to rejuvenate its refineries to run on heavy sour crude are bearing fruit. Chris Cunningham checks on the potential for a member of the next generation of major sulphur suppliers.

Abstract

After lengthy delays the first of Mexico’s six planned and current refinery upgrades has opened for business. The Cadereyta refinery project completed by a Korean-German-Mexican joint venture will transform the nation’s import-export balance for gasoline.

It will inaugurate the oil industry’s response to a switch to gas with a new product slate that no longer favours fuel oil. And it will add a hefty 560 t/day of sulphur to the supply situation in the Caribbean Basin.

An earlier agreement over sulphur shipments between Koch Industries of the US and Venezuelan heavy crude upgrader Petrozuata, shortly to be followed by the first sulphur output from Jose, means the wider start-up of a new generation of signifi­cant brimstone production in Latin America. Mean­while, it remains to be seen what these two new supply centres intend doing with the brimstone they produce.

The Cadereyta start-up was last scheduled for early June. In common with all of the six upgrades, it has been subject to delays brought about partly by Mexico’s unfamiliarity with refinery capital projects on the grand scale and in large measure by the role of the nation’s oil monopoly, Petroleos Mexi­canos (Pemex).

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Sulphuric acids storage and transport

Summary

A guide to regulations and design criteria affecting non-fuming and fuming sulphuric acids. DuPont Chemicals manufactures, stores and transports both non-fuming and fuming sulphuric acid products. In the United States some regulations apply differently to non-fuming and fuming acids; also, the design criteria for storing and transporting these acids are different. Mark Salzbrenner, Technical Service Consultant for DuPont Chemicals Sulphur Products, gives an outline review of the regulations and salient design criteria.

Abstract

Sulphuric acid and fuming sulphur-based acids, such as oleums, sulphur trioxide (SO3) and chloro­sulphonic acid (CSA), are essential chemicals in today’s society. They are important chemicals in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, sham­poos, detergents, surfactants, fluorochemicals, agricultural chemicals, fertilizers, lubricants, ion exchange resins, rubbers, plastics and steel. In fact, you can measure the standard of living of a society by how much sulphuric acid products are used per capita – the more acids used, the higher the standard of living.

Sulphuric acids, both non-fuming and fuming, must be handled and transported properly to avoid potential problems. DuPont expends a lot of effort to ensure that it does not cause injuries or hurt the environment with these sulphuric acid products. It meets or exceeds all regulations in­volved with the storage and handling of these pro­ducts, and follows all Responsible Care guidelines suggested by the American Chemical Council (formerly known as the Chemical Manufacturers Associ­ation, CMA).

This article reviews some of the DuPont design criteria for the transport and storage of these acids, and also gives an overview of some of the Unites Stated regulations that apply to non-fuming and fuming sulphuric acids, including the chemicals considered “Poison Inhalation Hazard” (PIH) by the United States Depart­ment of Transportation (DOT). Fuming sulphuric acids reviewed in this article that are considered PIHs by DOT include oleums greater than 30%, sulphur trioxide (SO3) and chlorosulphonic acid (CSA).

Noranda DuPont LLC, a joint venture of Noranda of Canada and DuPont, follows the same requirements as DuPont for storage and transportation of the non-fuming sulfuric acid products.

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Ultrapure sulphuric acid growing niche market?

Summary

Markets for electronic products are booming and production of semiconductors is surging upwards. Sulphur looks at the use of purified sulphuric acid in this sector.

Abstract

Ultrapure sulphuric acid (UPS) is one of the major “wet” chemicals used in the production of semiconductors, and the global market for semiconductors is booming. Typically, UPS is made from conventional oleum, although the com­panies that make it don’t say too much about the details of its production, other than the fact that impurities are removed to very low levels indeed. As such, it is probably the ultimate high value-added niche product in the sulphuric acid industry. But what does the future hold?

A recent estimate (Rose Associ­ates 1997) puts the the worldwide consumption of sulphuric acid for the semiconductor industry at 70 million pounds per year (about 32,000 t/a), with global sales revenue in the region of $52 million. These estimates reflect an indicative price of a little over $1600/tonne, compared to about a hundredth of that for conventional bulk acid.

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