Expanding sulfuric acid application in the manufacturing of phosphate fertilizers is expected to drive the global market

Posted On May, 06, 2016

Global sulfuric acid demand is expected to witness a steady growth mainly on account of its broad applications, especially in the phosphate fertilizers manufacturing. Sulfuric acid is a mineral acid having a molecular formula of H2SO4 and is soluble in water at all concentrations.

The product is an odorless and colorless viscous liquid. However, it is sometimes dyed brown so that it is easily visible. In ancient period, this acid was named as oil of vitriol. Sulfuric acid is produced with the help of two well-known processes which include lead chamber and contact.

The lead chamber process is the older of the two and is widely used to produce the item which finds application in fertilizers manufacturing. The connection method gives a pure sulfuric acid yield but requires expensive catalysts and pure raw materials.

Both these methods involve oxidization of sulfur dioxide dissolved in water. The product is considered as an essential chemical and widely used in industries. It is said that nation’s sulfuric acid production and consumption levels are used as an indicator to depict industrialization.

They are widely utilized in the fertilizers production which includes phosphates and ammonium sulfates. They are also extensively applied in the manufacturing of car batteries. Moreover, it is employed in the manufacture of detergents, dyes, and synthetic resins.

The petroleum industry has been using these products for oil well acidizing. A small portion of their application is in the field of paints and coatings. Modern means of farming to increase per hectare production has resulted in extensive use of fertilizers.

Such advanced agriculture practices are augmenting overall product demand. Ammonium sulfate is an important nitrogen fertilizer which has helped the farmers to increase their crop yield. More than half of global H2SO4 production is used in fertilizer manufacturing.

Extensive use of fertilizers in near future to obtain highly nutrient yield is expected to drive the market growth over the forecast period. The product is also used as an industrial cleaning agent in iron and steel industry to remove oxidation.

It is utilized for the removal of rust and scaling from rolled metal sheets before using them in automobiles and other industrial appliances. Extensive use of H2SO4 as a catalyst is expected to drive the global market further.

Petroleum refining makes use of H2SO4 as a catalyst for the reaction of isobutane and isobutylene to obtain isooctane. This isooctane compound is used to increase the octane rating of gasoline.

Sulfuric acid forms a proper electrolyte and therefore used in car batteries. They have domestic applications in the form of acidic drain cleaners. Their ability to dissolve fats at high concentrations helps in removal of grease, tissue paper, and hair present in clogged drains.

Safety concerns related to sulfuric acid handling is expected to establish as a major challenge for the industrial growth. Higher concentration causes severe burns if not handled with care. Its contact with metals leads to the liberation of hydrogen gas.

Diffusion of aerosol acids and sulfur dioxide in gaseous form possess risks of fire. The occupational safety and health administration (OSHA) is an agency under the United States department of labor.

OSHA has fixed H2SO4 permissible exposure limit (PEL) at one milligram per cubic meters to maintain worker’s safety and security at the facilities. The global sulfuric acid market is segmented by applications which include fertilizers, chemicals, industrial cleaning agents, catalysts, car batteries and domestic uses.

The fertilizer industry dominates the application segment followed by industrial chemicals. An increasing number of automobiles has contributed in propelling the growth of H2SO4 usage car battery manufacturing.

Asia Pacific dominated the global demand, and the trend is expected to continue on account of rapid industrialization. The presence of agrarian economies in Asia has resulted in the growth of fertilizer market which in turn is supposed to fuel the H2SO4 consumption. 

At present, China is the global leader regarding production and most of its consumption is associated with fertilizer manufacturing. Regional demand was followed by North America and Europe respectively.

These regions are anticipated to witness a steady growth owing to the presence of developed industrial sector. Africa and South America are expected to show a slow growth mainly on account of lack of application industries.

Key players manufacturing H2SO4 are AkzoNobel, Honeywell International, DuPont, Bayer, Chevron, Cytec Industries, Agrium, Evonik Industries, and Phelps Dodge. Companies handling the product have established spent acid regeneration (SAR) plants.

These plants have combustion processes which produce sulfur dioxide and sulfur trioxide which in turn is used to manufacture new sulfuric acid. Recent trends have shown SAR establishments in metal smelting plants and oil refineries where these products are consumed in large quantities.

These plants are providing cost saving solutions by avoiding the high cost of new product purchase and costs associated with its disposal.

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