Over the past four years, sulphuric acid production from smelters alone in China has ballooned by 6 million tonnes, while total supply from all forms of production is up by 16 million tonnes.
Despite the growth in domestic acid production, China remains a key market for global sulphuric acid trade. Imports total around 1 million tonnes of sulphuric acid each year for the fertilizer and industrial chemicals sectors, to meet growing domestic demand. Smelter acid from South Korea and Japan are the key sources of imports. Throughout the research for Integer Research’s new Sulphuric Acid Market Service, we delved into the impact of the future supply/demand acid balance in China on global trade.
Only around 7% of global sulphuric acid production is currently traded on an annual basis, with prices in the merchant market often fluctuating significantly based on smelter acid availability. Any drop in Chinese imports as a result of increased domestic supply and without an equivalent increase in demand could have a dramatic impact on the flow of trade to and from the country. At the same time, with the risk of Chinese acid imports of acid potentially reducing, we expect the same outlook for Chile, an even larger importer of acid. The potential drop in imports in these two countries begs the question over sulphuric acid pricing in the future, and what markets will absorb any diverted trade or trade reversals. Brazil had earlier been expected to increase its consumption of acid, but with key phosphate fertilizer projects shelved, the outlook is also stagnant in the coming years.