The aroma of rotten eggs smells like money to some Albertans.
In 2015, sulphur accounted for $420 million of Alberta’s energy-resource production, a small portion compared to the $67 billion the rest of Alberta’s resources brought in, but sulphur still plays an important role in Alberta’s economy, and beyond.
“The importance of sulphur cannot be overstated,” explains Afshan Mahmood, an AER economist and specialist in energy forecasting. “This sulphur becomes an important ingredient in agricultural products like fertilizers that enhance global food production.”
Elemental sulphur is recovered as a by-product of refining high sulphur-bearing crude and heavy oil, and from processing sour natural gas with a high hydrogen sulphide (H2S) content. Liquid sulphur recovered from oil and gas facilities is either pumped to outside blocks where it solidifies, to storage tanks for direct shipping in liquid form, or to slating, granulating, or prilling plants.
Slating and Prilling?
In the slating process, liquid sulphur is cooled, hardened, and then broken into various pieces on a series of staggered conveyor belts. Prilling is the process of turning sulphur into pellets, created by spraying liquid sulphur into the top of a tower and, through the use of fans, solidifying the droplets as they fall to the bottom.
In case you were wondering, sulphur is the primary source in the production of sulphuric acid, the world's most widely used chemical. The fertilizer industry uses it to manufacture phosphate, nitrogen, potassium, and sulphate fertilizers, and it’s also used in the creation of non-ferrous metals, pigments, fibres, pharmaceuticals, agricultural pesticides, personal care products, and cosmetics.
“Along with nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, sulphur is necessary for plant growth and nutrition. So without sulphur, fertilizer wouldn’t be as effective, and crop yields would be lower,” states Mahmood.
Regardless of how it appeals to your nose, sulphur remains an important global commodity, even if it isn’t often in the spotlight.