Main content | back to top
Sulphur is an element that occurs naturally in the environment and is the sixteenth most abundant element in the earth’s crust. It's an essential component of all living cells.
Most elemental sulphur is obtained as a co-product, recovered from oil and gas production.
Sulphur that is mined or recovered from oil and gas production is known as brimstone, or elemental sulphur. Sulphur produced as a by-product of ferrous and non-ferrous metal smelting is produced in the form of sulphuric acid.
The Greek name for Sulphur is 'Thion' - hence the products Shell Thiocrete, Shell Thiogro and Shell Thiopave.
What are the properties of sulphur?
Sulphur is a non-metallic chemical element identified by the letter S.
It has the atomic number 16.
- Sulphur burns with a blue flame that emits sulphur dioxide, notable for its peculiar suffocating odour.
- In its native form, it is a yellow crystalline solid. At room temperature, sulphur is a soft, bright-yellow solid.
- Sulphur is insoluble in water.
- Unlike most other liquids, the viscosity of sulphur in its molten state, increases above temperatures of 200°C due to the formation of polymers.
- Pure sulphur known as elemental sulphur is odourless.
Where does it come from?
Sulphur is the 16th most abundant element in nature. It is found in the earth’s crust, in the ocean and even in meteorites. Sulphur occurs naturally all over the world and is most prolific where sulphur-rich gas and oil is processed and refined i.e.the United States, Canada, the Former Soviet Union, and West Asia. Canada is the biggest exporter and China is the biggest importer of sulphur.
What is it used for?
Agriculture: an essential nutrient for crops
Sulphur is one of the essential plant nutrients, along with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. It can contribute to an increase in crop yields in three different ways:
- It provides a direct nutritive value
- It provides indirect nutritive value as soil amendments, especially for calcareous and saline alkali soils
- It improves the efficiency of other essential plant nutrients.
Sulphur is the primary source to produce sulphuric acid, the world’s most used chemical and a versatile mineral acid used as an essential intermediate in many processes in the chemical and manufacturing industries.
Sulphur is also used in many other industries including non-ferrous metals, pigments, fibres, hydrofluoric acid, carbon disulphide, pharmaceuticals, agricultural pesticides, personal care products, cosmetics, synthetic rubber vulcanization, water treatment, and steel pickling.
Sulphur asphalt (SA), sometimes referred to as sulphur bitumen, sulphur extended asphalt or SEA, is a viable alternative for asphalt road binder. Sulphur’s unique properties to improve the characteristics of asphalt have been known for more than a century.
Sulphur concrete is a relatively new corrosion resistant material that contains stones, sand and sulphur polymer cement binder. Sulphur concrete is mixed and placed at a elevated temperature. It rapidly gains high strength over a few hours of cooling and provides an economic long-term performance in many harsh environments.
Sulphur is Everywhere!
Sulphur is used in many textiles, rubber products such as tyres and boots, daily household products such as detergents, paints, paper and carpets. It is also used in many life-saving medicines.
- Sulphur is referred to in the Bible. Sulphur was known in China as far back as the 6th century BC, in a natural form that the Chinese had called 'brimstone' - meaning literally 'the stone that burns'.
- In 1777 Antoine Lavoisier helped convince the scientific community that sulphur was an element and not a compound.
- In the 1800s, mothers in Britain often gave their children a spoonful of sulphur and molasses as a spring tonic. Today, Sulfa drugs fight the bacteria that causes meningitis. Sulphur ointments treat skin infections.
- In 1839, Charles Goodyear accidentally dropped a mixture of rubber and sulphur into a fire. Goodyear called his rubber materials "vulcanized" after Vulcan the Roman god of fire.
- In 1867, sulphur was discovered in underground deposits in Louisiana and Texas.
Source - The Sulphur Institute