South Africa has approximately 4 million tons of sulphuric acid capacity and about 66% of this was utilised in 2013. Local producers include sulphur burners, mining operations (from sulphur dioxide off-gases) and Sasol Synfuels (from hydrogen sulphide off-gas). Pyrite tailings at gold mines used to be a major raw material in sulphuric acid production, but all these sites had closed down by 2011.
Upstream production volumes at the mines and Sasol Synfuels determine the volume of off-gases and therefore also the volume of sulphuric acid produced. From time to time there is therefore spare capacity at these operations. There was also spare capacity at the sulphur burners in 2013. In 2013, approximately 2% of the local demand was imported.
Sulphuric acid is produced captively (for internal use) and non-captively (for the open market). Local captive uses include phosphoric acid and fertilisers production, mining operations, and aluminium sulphate production. Non-captive uses phosphoric acid and fertilisers production, mining operations, and aluminium sulphate production. Non-captive uses include a variety of inorganic chemicals and fertilisers production, base metal refining and uranium leaching, pulp & paper production, metallurgical applications, battery manufacturing and various other smaller applications.
There was a major decline in sulphuric acid production between the early 2000’s and 2013, mainly due to the closure and mothballing of local phosphoric acid plants, the closure of a linear alkyl benzene sulphonic acid plant, reduced exports to Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) due to increased captive capacity in these countries, as well as increased captive production in South Africa. In 2013, only 6% of the local production was exported.
Exports increased to Zimbabwe as their captive production reduced. However, all exports are expected to reduce to zero in the near future with increased sulphuric acid capacity planned in the neighbouring counties.
Growth in the South African market is dependent on many factors, e.g. uranium mining and potential captive production, increased aluminium fluoride production, and changes in captive production patterns.