Sulfur: A Potential Resource Crisis That Could Stifle Green Technology and Threaten Food Security as The World Decarbonizes

HT/Alastair B

Open Access

Mark Maslin, Livia Van Heerde, Simon Day

First published: 21 August 2022 | https://doi.org/10.1111/geoj.12475

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Abstract

Sulfur in the form of sulfuric acid is a crucial part of our modern industrial society. It is required for the production of phosphorus fertiliser and manufacturing lightweight electric motors and high-performance lithium-ion batteries. Over 246 million tonnes of sulfuric acid are used annually. Rapid growth in the green economy and intensive agriculture could see demand increase to over 400 million tonnes by 2040. Today over 80% of the global sulfur supply comes from desulfurisation of fossil fuels to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas. Decarbonisation of the global economy to deal with climate change will greatly reduce the production of fossil fuels. This will create a shortfall in the annual supply of sulfuric acid of between 100 and 320 million tonnes by 2040, depending on how quickly decarbonisation occurs. Unless action is taken to reduce the need for sulfuric acid, a massive increase in environmentally damaging mining will be required to fill this resource demand.

Short Abstract

Sulfur in the form of sulfuric acid is a crucial part of our modern industrial society. It is required for the production of phosphorus fertiliser and manufacturing lightweight electric motors and high-performance lithium-ion batteries. Today over 80% of the global sulfur supply comes from desulfurisation of fossil fuels to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas. Decarbonisation of the global economy to deal with climate change will greatly reduce the production of fossil fuels. This will create a shortfall in the annual supply of sulfuric acid of between 100 and 320 million tonnes by 2040. Unless action is taken to reduce the need for sulfuric acid, a massive increase in environmentally damaging mining will be required to fill this resource demand.

1 INTRODUCTION

Sulfur, in the form of sulfuric acid, is a vital ingredient for many industries. The acid is used in producing phosphorus fertiliser (Cordell et al., 2009), lightweight electric motors, and lithium-ion batteries (Childers et al., 2011; IEA, 2021a; Ober, 2002). It is vital for extracting metals from ores and manufacturing polymers. Yet a problem looms, which is largely unnoticed. As green technology booms and agriculture intensifies, global demand for sulfuric acid is set to rise significantly by 2040. At the same time, the major present-day source of sulfur for these industries will rapidly diminish with the decline in production of oil and gas (BP, 2021; IEA, 2021a).

More than 80% of the sulfur used industrially (USGS, 2022) comes from oil and natural gas, which typically contain 1–3 weight percent sulfur (Speight, 2019). The element is removed during refining to enable use of noble metal catalysts in further refining downstream and, most significantly, to reduce combustion emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas, a major cause of air pollution and acid rain (Grennfelt et al., 2020). As the world decarbonises over the next three decades (IPCC, 20182022), the supplies of sulfur will drop, just when the material is needed most (IEA, 2021a). Prices of sulfuric acid will rise, which could increase the cost of food, especially if sulfuric acid-using green tech industries outbid fertiliser producers. As ever, developing countries will be hit hardest.

The sulfur crisis is not a new one. In the 1950s there were concerns about supplies of industrial sulfur (AC, 1951), which was ultimately solved as an unintended consequence of the oil refining industry having to remove organosulfur compounds which make platinum-based catalysts in hydrocarbon cracking reactors ineffective and then later on the regulation requiring the desulphurisation of fossil fuels. The question is why has not the latest threat to sulfur supplies been recognised? Partly this is because sulfur seems plentiful, available, and cheap today. There are almost limitless theoretical reserves of sulfur in geological deposits (USGS, 2022), although these are mainly sulfates whose present-day utility is limited. Furthermore, sulfur is also seen as a hazardous waste product (or a ‘fatal product’) in the fossil fuel industry, from whose perspective the sulfur-consuming, sulfuric acid-using industries can be seen as providing a waste disposal service, in which the sulfur is exchanged for the provision of that service. Thus, sulfur production is in effect highly subsidised, producing sulfur that is provided at very low direct monetary cost to the sulfur-using industries, and in volumes that may even occasionally exceed the world’s current needs (Wagenfeld et al., 2019). Prices of sulfur have remained at less than $40 per tonne (inflation adjusted) for the last 40 years (Ober, 2002), except when recessions and/or oil conflicts have caused supply–demand imbalances and temporary sulfur shortages (Figure 1). In such situations the price can spike to over $200 per tonne, as in the post-2008 recession, but its average price over that period was still significantly below the inflation-adjusted cost of alternative methods of sulfur production as a primary product, such as the Frasch process that dominated the world sulfur supply between the 1920s and 1970s (Figure 1; Ober, 2002). Furthermore, the hydrocarbon desulfurisation process produces the raw element ‘sulfur’ in powder or chips that can be transported and converted to sulfuric acid at major points of use, minimising the cost of transport to the user. Low costs are vital for any material used in bulk. It can take 250 tonnes of sulfur to extract 1 tonne of cobalt metal from lateritic ore (Dunn et al., 2015; Tagliaferri et al., 2016).

FIGURE 1Open in figure viewerPowerPointComparison of past global supply of sulfur and the cost per tonne of sulfur corrected to 1998 US$ (data compiled from the following reports: U.S. Bureau of Mines (1927–34) Mineral resources of the United States 1924–31; U.S. Bureau of Mines (1933–96), minerals yearbook 1932–94; U.S. Geological Survey (1901–27) mineral resources of the United States 1900–23; U.S. Geological Survey (1995–present), minerals yearbook (http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals)

Prior to the dominance of sulfur production by desulfurisation of fossil fuels, sulfur was also produced by direct mining of elemental sulfur or as a byproduct from mining of copper and other sulfide minerals, which by contrast is dirty and expensive. Many sulfide minerals also contain heavy metals like mercury, arsenic, and thallium, which are toxic. Furthermore, roasting sulfide minerals produces sulfur dioxide gas that has to be converted immediately to concentrated sulfuric acid, which is more expensive and dangerous to store and transport than elemental sulfur. Elemental sulfur occurring around salt domes can be extracted in the Frasch process by injecting superheated steam to melt the sulfur and propel it to the surface, but this demands thermal energy that is most easily (and cheaply, prior to the 1970s) supplied by burning fossil fuels and generates large volumes of wastewater contaminated with sulfur and hydrogen sulfide. Thus, wide use of the Frasch process has energy and environmental costs that were acceptable prior to the 1980s, but should be unacceptable now.

2 GROWING SUPPLY–DEMAND GAP

To forecast sulfuric acid demand, three scenarios were modelled for 2021 to 2040 based on three different sources (shown in Figure 2). The scenarios are based on historic and forecast sulfuric acid demand. Scenario 1 is based on an annual growth rate of 1.8%, calculated from the 2011–18 sulfuric acid demand which has been extended forward to 2040 (Essential Chemical Industry, 2016). Scenario 2 uses a larger published average annual growth rate of 2.3% annually, calculated from the 2015 to 2021 sulfuric acid demand (Statista, 2020). Scenario 3 uses a slightly higher estimated growth rate of 2.4% (Shah, 2019), based on 2018 sulfuric acid demand and predictions to 2027. Other more extreme scenarios based on very rapid expansion of electric vehicles and rare metal batteries (IEA, 2021a2021b; McKinsey and Company, 2018) were discounted until there is more evidence of this increase. However, this additional factor of potential increase in demand for sulfuric acid from these new industries suggests that our demand curves are conservative estimates and that future demand could be much higher.

FIGURE 2 Estimated future supply (Essential Chemical Industry, 2016; Shah, 2019; Statista, 2020) and demand for sulfuric acid (IEA, 2021b, BP, 20192022; USGS, 2022)

Sulfuric acid supply projections, also shown in Figure 2, are based on sulfur recovery from oil use projections (IEA, 2021b; BP, 20192022). The global USGS (2022) sulfur supply data for 2021 were used as a baseline for the calculations (~81 million tonnes equivalent to ~246 million tonnes of sulfuric acid). Sulfur recovered from natural gas and other sources was assumed to be constant because there is considerable uncertainty over future production, particularly over the next decade. First, this is because the pandemic caused the demand for natural gas to drop by 4% in 2020 (BP, 2020; Shiryaevskaya & Dezem, 2020), but this is predicted to rise by 1.5% by 2025, after which it could vary by ±25% of the 2021 level by 2040 (BP, 2022). Second, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has accelerated EU plans to transition away from natural gas, with new plans to triple the planned renewable energy infrastructure by 2030 (Hockenos, 2022). Third, the IEA (2021b) suggests a 75% drop in natural gas is required by 2040 to be consistent with the 1.5°C climate pathway – but there is currently no evidence that this will occur.

Six future oil demand scenarios were chosen to illustrate the huge range of possibilities in the next few decades. Three BP (2019) scenarios were chosen to illustrate possible changing supply: more fossil fuel energy demand and less globalisation demand. Three BP (2022) scenarios trying to model the energy transition away from fossil fuels, including: new momentum, accelerated, and the net zero pathway. These are compared to the IEA (2021b) 1.5°C decarbonisation pathway. Depending on how rapidly the world decarbonises and the amount of negative carbon emissions used to offset fossil fuel use, there could be a shortfall in sulfuric acid of between 100 and 320 million tonnes. That is a shortfall of between 40% and 130% of current production by 2040. Hence, rapid reductions in demand and/or massive increases mining are needed in the coming decades.

3 DIRTY MINING

The rapid expansion of green technologies is predicted to significantly increase the need to mine minerals and metals (Herrington, 2021). Cobalt demand could increase by 460%, nickel by 99%, and neodymium by 37% by 2050 (Herrington, 2021), all of which currently use large amounts of sulfuric acid in their extraction. The USGS (2022) estimates there is almost limitless supply of elemental sulfur and sulfate minerals in evaporites, volcanic deposits, gypsum, and anhydrite, but new industries will be required to reduce sulfates to sulfur in order to exploit most of these resources. China already subsidises carbothermal reduction of gypsum to produce sulfuric acid directly in integrated industrial eco-parks with co-located acid-using industries (Zhang et al., 2015), but at the environmental cost of large CO2 emissions.

More immediately, the sulfur shortfall could be offset by expanding mining of sulfides and elemental sulfur, but at large environmental costs. This could include both conventional mining of sulfur deposits and the Frasch mining process that extracts elemental sulfur from salt domes or bedded evaporite deposits by injecting super-heated water into the deposits (Ober, 2002). This will create environmental problems, such as air, soil, and water pollution, and human rights issues associated with intensive mining (Martin & Iles, 2020). Sulfide mining operations also have their own issues. Of particular concern is mining wastes containing sulfide minerals (Chopard et al., 2019) that can acidify local surface and ground waters and increase the levels of numerous toxic elements (As, Bi, Co, Hg, Ni, Tl, Sb, Se, etc.). At the same time, in South China, direct generation of sulfuric acid continues not only by roasting of copper and other sulfide ores to produce valuable metals with sulfuric acid as a byproduct (Han et al., 2016) but also by roasting pyrite to produce sulfur dioxide and hence sulfuric acid as the primary product, at the cost of substantial heavy metal and especially thallium pollution of the region (Liu et al., 2016).

Research is urgently needed to develop low-cost, low environmental impact methods of extracting large quantities of elemental sulfur from the very abundant deposits of sulfate minerals such as gypsum and anhydrite. The international community needs to consider supporting and regulating sulfur mining to minimise the impacts and also to avoid cheap unethical production from distorting the market. A particular problem is the need to manage the decline of sulfur production from fossil fuel desulfurisation, so that temporary increases in supplies of waste sulfur from this source do not collapse the market price of sulfur and so undermine the longer-term development of sulfur production from new low environmental impact sources.

4 INCREASE RECYCLING

Alternatively, the demand for sulfur could be reduced, both from the presently dominant fertiliser industry and from new users consuming increasing amounts of sulfuric acid as part of the transition to post-fossil fuel economies. In terms of phosphorus fertilisers, recycling sewage and other waste (Cordell et al., 2011) is a viable alternative to sulfuric acid processing of phosphate rock (Withers et al., 2015). In sewage treatment works, phosphate can be precipitated out as struvite (Mg[NH4]PO4), a good combined N and P fertiliser, although the Mg can be problematic for some soils and crops. Research is required as struvite-saturated solutions can cause damaging deposits in pumps, machinery, and pipes. Recycling of phosphate from sewage would, in the longer term, also help to address the “peak phosphorus” problem due to the predicted future scarcity of phosphate rock (McGill, 2012). It may also ameliorate the issue of phosphorus eutrophication (Chislock et al., 2013) in many freshwater and coastal areas and make a major contribution to the Sustainability Development Goal 6.3.

Demand for sulfuric acid from new industries could be reduced somewhat by increasing the recycling of lithium batteries (Harper et al., 2019; but it should be noted that recycling will have little impact in the period to 2040 and beyond in which the production of new batteries will greatly increase from a low initial base), or by using lower energy capacity/weight ratio batteries such as the Li-FePO4 battery (Durmus et al., 2020). These require less sulfur for their production compared to the highest capacity Li-ion batteries that at present use Ni-Co cathode chemistries. The next research step is to invent new more powerful batteries and motors that are less reliant on Ni, Co, and rare earth elements. This would boost energy storage and efficiency, accelerating decarbonisation and reducing the need for sulfuric acid. Another increment of reduction in sulfur demand might also come from alternatives to vulcanised rubber in vehicle tires, to offset the greater demand for this material resulting from the increased weights of battery electric as compared to internal combustion engine vehicles.

More speculative alternatives to sulfur production from fossil fuels could include developing techniques to recycle sulfur from the sulfate salts produced in sulfuric acid using processes, through its different oxidation states using sulfur-cycle bacteria. Bacteria are already used at small scale in some of the steps involved, for example in the Shell-Paques process for converting hydrogen sulfide in natural gas to sulfur, but industrial-scale bacterial reduction of sulfates to produce hydrogen sulfide gas has not yet been implemented (Cline et al., 2003; De Crisci et al., 2019; Muyzer & Stams, 2008) – in part due to the extremely hazardous nature of the product. It may also be possible to replace sulfuric acid with different acids, such as nitric acid, in those industrial processes where this can be done without creating toxic, environmentally damaging, and/or radioactive problems (Schnug & Lottermoser, 2013). For example, nitric acid is a potential substitute for processing Ni-Co laterites, but not for processing phosphate rock because it creates waste water containing radioactive and highly soluble uranyl nitrate (Ma et al., 2015). However, the production of nitric acid is itself expensive, presently depends on supplies of ammonia derived from natural gas, and would require expensive changes to industrial processes presently using sulfuric acid.

5 CONCLUSIONS: THE NEXT STEPS

Decarbonising the global economy is essential if the impacts of climate change are to be restricted (IPCC, 20182022). But it can have unintended consequences, which need to be acknowledged and solved – such as the potential sulfuric acid crisis. What makes the sulfur issue so difficult to deal with is that there is currently an extremely cheap plentiful supply. Critics could argue that it does not make economic sense to invest in alternative production or reduce the need until that supply decreases, particularly as we currently cannot accurately predict how quickly the subsidised supply of sulfur will decrease because decarbonisation of the global economy is only just starting. But our concern is that the dwindling supply could lead to a transition period when green tech outbids the fertiliser industry for the limited more expensive sulfur supply, creating an issue with food production, particularly in developing countries. By recognising the sulfur crisis now, we can develop national and international policies to manage future sulfur demand, increase resource recycling, and develop alternative cheap supplies which have minimal environmental and social impact.

5 Box: The many uses of sulfuric acid through time

Sulfur as an element has been used since ancient times in China, Egypt, Greece, and India (Kutney, 2013). Referred to as “brimstone”, it was used for medicine, fabric bleaching, and later as a key component of Chinese black powder or gun powder (Kutney, 2013), which changed the course of world history (Lewis and Maslin, 2018). The development of mining and refinement of sulfur led to more uses of the element, including furniture inlays, buildings, concrete, and fertiliser production (Thomson, 1995). Later in the 19th century, its consumption by the Great Powers (UK, USA, France, Germany) became a key index of industrial and military strength because sulfuric acid was used to produce nitric acid from nitrate minerals, to create nitrate organic compounds for advanced explosives and ammunition propellants. The connection between sulfur and economic and military strength became still stronger in the first half of the 20th century as mechanisation of road transport and mobile warfare were enabled by sulfur vulcanisation of rubber to produce durable vehicle tyres. Sulfur today is used as raw material for the production of paper, soaps, detergents, and industrial organic chemicals (Ober, 2002). However, its greatest significance today lies not in applications in where it is part of the final product, but in technologies where sulfuric acid is a key process or industrial chemical, used to decompose and dissolve a very wide range of different materials (Ober, 2002). Sulfuric acid is used to produce cellulosic fibres such as rayon or nylon, synthetic rubbers, drugs, nitrogenous and phosphorus fertilisers, pesticides, explosives, storage batteries, and acids in particular hydrofluoric acid, which is critical to the aluminium production, nuclear fuel processing, and semiconductor industries (Cheremisina et al., 2019; Yara, 2020). Sulfuric acid is also essential in the extraction, processing, and refining of a range of ferrous and nonferrous metals, that are used extensively in the tech-industry (Cheremisina et al., 2019). Over the last 100 years the method of production of sulfur has changed, as has the unit cost. See Figure 3 for annotated explanations of these changes.

FIGURE 3 Comparison of past global supply of sulfur and cost per tonne corrected to 1998 US$ with annotations explaining the different phases of production and overall cost of sulfur. A fatal product is a hazardous waste material from a chemical process that has significant cost to the safe management and disposal (see Figure 1 for data sources)

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The authors would like to thank the reviewers and the editors for all their helpful and supportive comments. We would also like to thank Miles Irving and the UCL Geography Drawing Office for assistance with the diagrams.

FUNDING INFORMATION

We would like to thank the Natural Environment Research Council London DTP (NE/L002485/1) for providing funding.

Open Research

DATA AVAILABILITY STATEMENT

All the data used in this paper are publicly available and can be accessed through the references and websites cited in the main text and in the figure captions.

REFERENCES

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Old Man Winter
September 19, 2022 10:54 pm

What else can go wrong with eliminating reliable 24/7 solar!

shootft.jpg
September 19, 2022 11:13 pm

“Decarbonising the global economy is essential if the impacts of climate change are to be restricted (IPCC, 20182022).” = HOGWASH.

Tones
Reply to  Michael Snow
September 20, 2022 4:21 am

“Decarbonising the global economy “. NO “Decarbonising the WESTERN economy “. There, fixed

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Tones
September 20, 2022 6:00 am

Yes, we want to have accuracy. The global economy is not decarbonizing. A large part of the global economy is increasing its use of coal, oil and natural gas. The smart part.

The Greens/Climate Alarmists are delusional. They indulge in wishful thinking, to the detriment of the public. They live in a false reality and they want the rest of us to live there, too. Unfortunately for them and their narrative, I, and many others, can’t do that because our eyes are open.

The Dark Lord
Reply to  Michael Snow
September 20, 2022 9:04 am

yeah pure HOGWASH … what impacts ? a greening planet, longer lifespans … this century the “climate change” has been benign … now the day to day “weather” change has done what it always has done and changed …

Robert W Turner
Reply to  Michael Snow
September 20, 2022 3:47 pm

It’s clear to me that the purpose of the “green” movement is to kill off most people on the planet. Decarbonization is code word for depopulation.

John_C
Reply to  Robert W Turner
September 22, 2022 3:55 pm

Well, we are CARBON-based lifeforms after all. Logically, they’d have to kill us all.

Simonsays
September 19, 2022 11:22 pm

Just add sulpher to the list of all the other minerals needed for the great green transition. It’s never going happen, there simply is not enough copper, cobalt, lithium, germanium and a whole lot of other minerals to make the batteries, solar panels and wind turbines.

If you haven’t seen this it’s must see. . Worth it just for the potential investment strategy!

“The quantity of metals required to manufacture just one generation of renewable technology to phase out fossil fuels”

https://youtu.be/MBVmnKuBocc

Robert W Turner
Reply to  Simonsays
September 20, 2022 3:55 pm

And we also have LIP batteries coming – lithium iron phosphate. Because lithium is already in structural deficit and it will only get worse, they are turning to these heavy cheap batteries for EVs. They also use them for storage batteries needed to make the green energy an even bigger waste. We’ll be switching out our traditional fertilizers for Brawndo soon.

Dena
September 19, 2022 11:32 pm

The not so high tech use. Here in Arizona and in some of the surrounding states, we dump it on the farm land. The soil is so alkaline that it bind the mineral so they aren’t available to the plants. In addition, many of the modern day crops evolved to grow in a more acid soil. Just a slow trickle in the irrigation water is enough to help the desert bloom with less fertilizer.

Peta of Newark
Reply to  Dena
September 20, 2022 7:13 am

Epic..
And when the farmers do that, it releases Carbon Dioxide, immense amounts of it.

Meanwhile, welcome to the world of soil erosion – hence when previously farmers used, got away with using, NPK fertiliser, they are now required to use NPK+S fertliser
Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Kalium and Sulphur

Sulphur’s good for making protein, a vital ‘thing’ in the how, why and way that Immune Systems work
And why folks who live on the sides of or anywhere near volcanoes are often very unusually long-lived.
Also why folks flocked to places called Spa – THE most significant ingredient in the water at such places being Magnesium Sulphate.
What drew them there, the water tastes horrible yet still glugged it down with the same gusto that BoJo glugged down his Vino Plonkio

Many folks nowadays will assert that an eating disorder commonly seen in Autistic children is remedied via the kids being given high Sulphur foodstuffs. (Cruciferous veggies, broccoli is best)
Helps the autism too.

Wonder if that has anything to do with ‘Autism in the Elderly’
Yes Joe Brandon, I’m looking at you, and the 12.5% of UK folks who now die from Alzheimer’s Disease, soon to be 25%

Hello Greenies and Activists – Shirley says:” Stuff the car batteries, can we get some real priorities right first?”

Drake
Reply to  Peta of Newark
September 20, 2022 11:02 am

Peta,

Having gardened in Las Vegas, the desert SW of the US, I know our soils ALWAYS need sulfur to grow much of anything edible. We don’t need calcium, since the soils are full of that, so 16, 20, 0 fertilizer is standard and most brands have 13% sulfur to acidify (in the “global warming” oceans sense, i.e., lower the soil alkalinity, not actually to make it acidic) the soil and help calcium uptake.

Why the continuous addition of sulfur, the irrigation water is HARD, alkaline. It is always great to see, after a heavy rain, that the garden thrived on the good, clean, non mineral infused, water. The growth spurts can be quite astounding.

So, Dena is correct as to our soils.

Your soil erosion comments do not apply.

Drake

Robin townsend
Reply to  Drake
September 20, 2022 7:08 pm

Drake, Peta,
K is Potassium, not Kalcium (sic). Of that I am sure. You cannot confuse elements and get the correct answer.

Hardness and pH are not the same although many causes of hardness such as calcium carbonates do tend to act as buffers resisting a reduction of pH. I am rapidly getting out of my depth at this point.

Could you kindly explain / modify your comments as necessary plus since these are important topics please?

Note, despite being a limey I was lucky enough to drive from la to Vegas after rain. The desert is stunning.

R

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  Robin townsend
September 20, 2022 7:51 pm

Kalium, not “Kalcium”, is apparently German for “potassium.” I had to look that one up, myself. But it does explain why potassium’s chemical symbol in the periodic table is “K”, something I had never even wondered about. Sort of like how tungsten’s symbol is “W” for “wolfram”, also of Germanic origin.

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  Michael S. Kelly
September 20, 2022 7:58 pm

The funniest element symbol was suggested by its discoverer, Glenn Seaborg, as a joke. That was for “Pu” as they symbol for plutonium. He was surprised when it became accepted.

Reply to  Peta of Newark
September 20, 2022 2:44 pm

Decarbonize …but Sulfurize…all at the same time – got it?

Last edited 13 days ago by Antigriff
rho
September 20, 2022 12:21 am

It is to laugh – another REAL problem being generated by trying to respond to a pseudo-problem.

Rocketscientist
Reply to  rho
September 20, 2022 9:36 am

The easiest problems to fix are the ones you don’t create.

RickWill
September 20, 2022 1:02 am

The link to the 80% coming from petroleum production is circular. But I suspect it only covers USA, which is a bit player in the sulphuric acid market. Like most manufacturing, China uses around half of the global sulphuric acid.

I do not believe that 80% number applies globally. I am reasonably certain most sulphuric acid is still a byproduct of metallic ore smelting and elemental sulphur burning.

The NutZero target requires much more copper. Most copper ore contains sulphur. So smelting involves releasing SO2 that is usually recovered as sulphuric acid.

USA will have to get all the stuff needed for NutZero from China because its manufacturing will be caput as now seen in Germany. China is the only place smart enough to be accelerating coal production to make the trinkets the developed countries demand. The crunch will come when their coal resources are depleted. They will then come and take them from the USA.

This whole analysis is BS. It was put together by incompetent dills who have no appreciation of supply chains.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  RickWill
September 20, 2022 6:05 am

“They will then come and take them from the USA.”

Come and get it.

Rocketscientist
Reply to  Tom Abbott
September 20, 2022 9:41 am

They’ll buy it process it and sell then sell it back to us. Just like we did to everyone else with their minerals.
The difference now is that we could do it too, but we just don’t seem to want to.

Mike McMillan
Reply to  Tom Abbott
September 20, 2022 7:00 pm

When I was flying the south departure out of Houston, we’d go over the docks at Galveston Island. One of the docks was always bright yellow, sulfur from the refineries, and lots of it.

29°18’22.62″N 94°49’12.25″W
on Google Earth.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  RickWill
September 20, 2022 9:38 am

Actually, for decades, Canada was the largest global exporter of sulphur. It was removed from sour gas (petroleum refining is indeed a small source).
https://external-content.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=https%3A%2F%2Ftse2.mm.bing.net%2Fth%3Fid%3DOIP.tZou8MCCwKophDjRCwm2QQHaFe%26pid%3DApi&f=1

Rod Evans
September 20, 2022 1:03 am

Hey, lighten up. The Greens have a plan to fix the lack of sulphur issue. They have decided to ban manufactured fertilizer, which is the biggest user of sulphur. They have actually run a real time trial on how successful that Green policy is.
Using an isolated community to ensure there was no risk of confusing data, they have discovered farming without fossil fuel derived fertiliser is very ‘effective’.
They chose Sri Lanka an isolated island in the Indian Ocean. It was once self sufficient in food production and had a planet damaging export industry called tea. By stopping fertilizer use all that came to an end. The Greens are thrilled with the result of their fertilizer ban. Riots and starvation have taken over from democratic government. The added bonus that no fossil fuel can be purchased by Sri Lanka any more because they no longer have an export industry selling tea to pay for it….
The ban on fertilizer sorted out so many issues the Greens are eager to resolve.
The destruction of wealth and wealth creation, being their prime objective.

william Johnston
Reply to  Rod Evans
September 20, 2022 9:02 am

Pretty much back to the basics existance.

Craig from Oz
September 20, 2022 1:26 am

Back in the day when I worked in mining the copper was refined on site (Olympic Dam).

The final process involved what in layman’s terms were giant lead acid batteries running in reverse. The smelted copper was layered between lead plates in massive baths of copper sulphate and large amounts of volts were run through them. Layman’s terms.

Point was the large amounts of heated copper sulphate solution made a sort of white mist in the area. This would then mix with the sweat on your skin to make sulphric acid which gave your skin a nice tingle and rotted your cotton overalls.

Fun times.

Anyway, point being. To refining copper used sulphur in massive amounts.

Good thing the New Green won’t need massive amounts of copper… oh… wait… new powerlines. Never mind.

roaddog
September 20, 2022 1:34 am

There are stacks and stacks of the stuff piled up in Fort McMurray.

Scissor
Reply to  roaddog
September 20, 2022 5:31 am

There used to be stranded mountains in Kazakhstan also for the same reasons. Don’t know if it’s that way today.

roaddog
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
September 20, 2022 6:06 pm

Clyde,
thanks for that. I haven’t been there in a bit, but that is just the way I remember it.

IanE
September 20, 2022 1:36 am

Hmm, more likely, this will just shift sulphur production to countries like China as they ramp up their use of fossil fuels yet further. Oh well, it’s not as though China dominates production of many key elements, is it?

MikeHig
September 20, 2022 1:42 am

The Law of Unintended Consequences strikes again!

This prompts the thought….has anyone made an exhaustive list of all the products we get from oil and gas and then identified alternative sources for each and every one? There is a massive, interlinked web of product chains with oil and gas at the centre.
In addition there are all the companies providing materials used in processing oil and gas which face a declining market, were we to actually start reducing FF consumption.
I doubt whether many, if any, of the anti-FF protestors have the slightest inkling of this.

fretslider
September 20, 2022 1:51 am

Another shot to the foot. There can’t be much of the foot left

Rocketscientist
Reply to  fretslider
September 20, 2022 9:45 am

They’re aiming at our feet too!

terrapod
September 20, 2022 3:56 am

A wonderful academic study on the subject, disconnected from reality. Peru and Chile sit on literal mountains of sulfur, most of which is not yet tapped. Not sure why this is suddenly an issue to get wound up about, other than the “left” needs a new crisis to exploit as a mechanism to remain in “control” (at least in their mind).

ozspeaksup
September 20, 2022 3:59 am

thanks for the good run through of the how what n whys;-)
and interesting seeing how little they pay for it and the enormous profits made on it! I buy 400 or so GRAMS for garden use/animal use and pay 12$au for the pack.
the hate everything fossil fuels mobs really have some problems coming don’t they?
lol

MarkW
Reply to  ozspeaksup
September 20, 2022 11:57 am

Transportation, storage, packaging etc add to costs. If you think that someone is getting filthy rich on sulfur, why don’t you get into that business and show them how to do it correctly?

H.R.
September 20, 2022 4:56 am

I thought satan used enormous amounts of fire and brimstone (Sulphur) in hell.

If you think the current demand for Sulphur is high, just wait ’til satan places the Sulphur order needed to cover all the greenies and politicians he’s expecting to arrive.

Prices will really skyrocket.

beng135
Reply to  H.R.
September 20, 2022 8:34 am

Yeah, I was going to say that — sulfur is demonic. Witches like it too.

H.R.
Reply to  beng135
September 20, 2022 9:26 am

Bill & Hillary alone will probably require 60,000 tonnes. Throw in Pelosi, and you’re pushing 100,000 tonnes of sulpher right there.

And let’s not forget all the lime needed to toss in at the burial to make sure they stay down. Can’t be too careful. Where will we get all the lime?

😉

Meisha
September 20, 2022 5:03 am

Unless action is taken to reduce the need for sulfuric acid, a massive increase in environmentally damaging mining will be required to fill this resource demand.”

Have these dimwits never heard of how a free market economy finds ways to provide what society needs at the lowest cost? Do they really think that only by some person in an ivory-tower analyzing problems and thinking of solutions that can only be implemented by government edict will society’s “problems” be solved?

Insane beyond words. There are damn few “problems” that smart people have the ability to “foresee” that can be solved by force. Predicting the future beyond a few years is difficult…no, it’s impossible.

Imagine if in the 19th Century we had let “smart people” (scientists?) allied with those who have the power to force others to do their bidding (government?) determine what society should do and not technologically and economically. I’m SURE we’d be better off today than we are, right? GIVE ME A BREAK!

Scientists + government = hell on earth. Dwight David Eisenhower was a briliant man. Read his farewell address — it should be lauded as brilliant as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It’s only 2,000 words yet says so much about the dangers he saw facing our Republic and the Western World. https://web.cs.ucdavis.edu/~rogaway/classes/188/materials/eisenhower.pdf

Duane
September 20, 2022 5:21 am

This report grossly overstates the size of the sulfur market and its production. Virtually all sources put total worldwide sulfur production/demand at approx. 65 million metric tons in 2021, not 246 MT.

While most of today’s sulfur production results from sulfur removal in oil refining, until the 2000s most sulfur was produced from surface mining activities.

And no, the world is never going to decarbonize. Even if we largely eliminated fossil fuels production – which seems extremely unlikely – we will still be extracting large volumes of crude oil to support all the various products that come out of a barrel of crude. So the supply of sulfur from crude oil refining won’t go away, it will be reduced, certainly.

Tom Abbott
September 20, 2022 5:50 am

From the article: “Decarbonising the global economy is essential if the impacts of climate change are to be restricted”

This is an unsubstantiated assertion. There is no evidence that CO2 is having any adverse impact on the Earth’s atmosphere or the inhabitants of the Earth. None.

The person making that statement above is sadly misinformed. Even more sadly, he is misinforming others with his unsubstantiated assertions.

c1ue
September 20, 2022 6:12 am

Really interesting – thanks for publishing this.
One of the sources I am working with in my new venture is the gas flared by uneconomic wells. Adding desulfurization is pretty straightforward – I have to look into the economics of that.

Olen
September 20, 2022 7:33 am

The article has described the greatest threat to the modern world and people. That would be green energy driven by the greedy and power hungry climate change crowd.

A minority of people can screw things up with the seat in political power.

Reply to  Olen
September 20, 2022 8:31 am

The greatest threat?? Not even number 99.

Yirgach
Reply to  Curious George
September 20, 2022 1:33 pm

The greatest threat to the modern world is a CO2 shortage (read Beer).
Although I ‘m not sure why most small brewers don’t capture their own during fermentation. Seems to be related to ammonia production.

Don
September 20, 2022 7:45 am

Where does the sulfur in the industrial use of sulfuric acid end up? Does it become sulphates in the sea, sulphates in land fill, sulphates in consumer products??? Where does the sulfur ultimately end up?

beng135
September 20, 2022 8:03 am

A enviro-wacko says, “Oh no, sulfur! That’s pollution!”

Gary Pearse
September 20, 2022 8:54 am

“Many sulfide minerals also contain heavy metals like mercury, arsenic, and thallium, which are toxic. Furthermore, roasting sulfide minerals produces sulfur dioxide gas that has to be converted immediately to concentrated sulfuric acid,”

I authored the sulphur (sulfer) chapter for the Canadian Minerals Yearbook for a decade from 1971, visited producers including a Frasch production platform offshore Louisiana, sour natural gas processing in Western Canada, smelter acid production and was “loaned” to the Kingdom of Morocco to advise on conversion from smelter acid to liquid sulphur from Canada and production of acid from native sulphur for what was (is?) the world’s largest producer of phosphate.

Things like the quote above from sceptics always disappoint! Being an ‘equal opportunity’ sceptic myself, I never fail to try to set them straight, although many remain serial offenders. Like these authors, they have a very good story to tell and then they gratuitously unload on the mining industry to reinforce the importance of their point, wrongly and unnecessarily.

All of us have been subjected to severe ‘green’ propaganda on mining, logging, plastics, nuclear … by ideologues who have little knowlege of the subjects, but know such statements resonate with the majority. Yes, gross negligence in mining and processing used to be widespread and it does occur in some operations in China (mainly by illegal miners nowadays as China has been cleaning up its ops) and among small producers in poor countries.

Most of world mineral production is on large scale and are modern clean and safe ops, including cobalt in the Congo! Tech for cleaning process water reduces arsenic to a few micrograms per cubic metre by converting it to As2O5 (a stable, virtually insoluble substance), ditto Tl2O3 (thallium(III)) and conversion of mercury pollutants to the sulphide HgS which also is so insoluble it’s safe to dump into seawater or tailings.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Gary Pearse
September 20, 2022 9:15 am

One other thing in the quote is producing (nasty) SO2 from roasting metal sulphides when making sulphuric acid. Well you also burn the native sulphur to make SO2 to make sulphuric acid! The advantage of using elemental sulphur, though, is conversion to SO2 produces useful heat. You can generate steam (4000 BTU/lb. of sulphur).

Mason
September 20, 2022 9:39 am

So, the law of unintended consequences strikes again. We are being bullied in to a “final solution” by people who don’t have a clue!

Jeff L
September 20, 2022 9:58 am

Hmmm … as a geologist, my first thought is what about gypsum &/or anhydrite (CaSO4) as a sulfur source? We know many places this could be mined &/or leached.
Perhaps a chemist could chime in if this would be a chemically viable source of sulfur for making sulphuric acid.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Jeff L
September 20, 2022 3:52 pm

There is a process for producing sulphuric from gypsum. And indeed when they make superphosphate, they acidulate phosphate rock (Calcium Phosphate) with sulphuric acid to make phosphoric acid and the solid waste from the reaction? Da da! Calcium sulphate, aka phosphogypsum.

They use the phosphoric acid to then digest more phosphate rock to produce high analysis super phosphate fertilizer plus a series of phosphate chemicals.

So, at a slightly higher cost, it can be used to remake sulphuric acid to use over again. They do sell some phosphogypsum to drywall mfg. There is also gypsum produced in the scrubbing of smoke from Appalachian coal used in thermal electric plants, from plants making titanium white pigments and from a process for making hydrofluoric acid from the mineral fluorite (and fluorine chemicals). All can be used for gypsum products or remade into sulphuric acid.

This is probably more than you wanted, but you were interested in the chemistry!

ResourceGuy
September 20, 2022 11:00 am

We can always import it from the Chinese super refineries, until they declare it a strategic commodity.

Dean
September 20, 2022 6:41 pm

Magic Puddings.

Thats the only viable source of the quantities of all other minerals required to construct this fantasy.

I wonder if alarmist’s tears have the right sort of salt?

Mike
September 20, 2022 7:28 pm

Simple solution: stop decarbonizing. “Climate change” is nothing but a scam to impoverish us.

ATheoK
September 21, 2022 6:56 am

Sulfur is a byproduct for many industrial processes. No need to mine sulfur.

Besides, sulfur, often as SO₂ or other sulfur compounds, are common in most hydrothermal or volcanic systems/fields worldwide.
Mining sulfur, when sulfur as an industrial byproduct becomes less common, is possible at many locations.

e.g., The sweetest onions are grown in the very uncommon sulfur deficient fields. Sulfur causes onions to taste less sweet and is what causes tear duct activation.

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